Dubai in the Desert: From Bedouin Backwater to City of the Future


 

One of the first people we met on our first trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates was Deva, barista extraordinaire at the Downtown Palace Hotel. We found him most afternoons in the lobby, serving dates and pouring tiny cups of Arabic coffee spiced with ginger, cardamom and saffron for arriving guests. His white robe is the traditional Emirati shirt-dress called a khandura. His headgear is typical of what Saudi men wear. But Deva is neither Emirati nor Middle-Eastern. Like 80 percent of UAE residents, he's from elsewhere in the world, in his case, Sri Lanka. 

Little more than a Bedouin desert  backwater until oil was discovered in the late 1960s, Dubai today is a prosperous city where natives are outnumbered by Southeast Asians, Europeans, North Americans and others - 200 nationalities in all - drawn here to fill a high demand for jobs and do business in a city of the future. Dubai has become the financial capital of the Middle-East, and more recently, a tourist destination for Americans taking advantage of stopovers on Emirates Airline's flights to Asia, Europe and Africa from major U.S. cities. 

For those who are unfamiliar, Dubai sits in the middle of the UAE, near the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, just across from Iran. Considering that Emirates operates two non-stops daily between Seattle and Dubai, I'm not sure why it took us so long to get here, but once we did, an assignment for Virtuoso Life Magazine kept us busy for several days prior to an onward trip to Myanmar. It was enough time to experience what a tour guide (a German transplant) called the "Wow'' factor of all that goes into creating an instant city from scratch in less than 50 years, and the "Ah'' factor as in "Ah, this is more of what we expected the Middle-East to be like," as we found ways to expose ourselves to the Arab culture in what some say is the least Arabic city in Arabia. 

 


First the "Wow." When the ruler,  Sheikh Rashid, hired British experts to build a city in the early 70s, he ordered them to bring Dubai from the third world into the first in 15 years. The population at the time was around 200,000. There were no paved roads. He told his experts to design a city for one million, and position it in such a way that it could prosper as a center of the MIddle East, even in the event that oil  someday might not be enough to  support the entire economy. No shame in going around the world and copying what you see, he said. Just make it bigger and better. 

His son and current ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid  followed through. Above is a view of the Dubai Fountain from the balcony of our room at the Downtown Palace. It is the world's largest dancing fountain, built on a huge man-made lake connected by bridges to the Dubai Mall, the world's largest mall by area with more than 1,000 stores, an aquarium and underwater zoo. With Dubai scheduled to host Expo 2020, plans are to build another mall three times bigger.


 

Across from the mall and the fountain is the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building at 2,700 feet and 160 floors. When word got out that the Saudis were planning a taller structure, a competition began with Dubai announcing plans to trump the Burj Khalifa with an even taller building under construction now. A recent newspaper story about "preserving Dubai's past" as the city continues to build referenced "saving" buildings and neighborhoods constructed in the late 1990s.



Here's a view of downtown Dubai from the 148th floor observation deck of the Burj Khalfia. Like everything else in Dubai, a ticket to the top is expensive - around $80. Going only as far as floor 128 is a cheaper alternative.


 

Sheikh Mohammed's  picture appears on billboards alongside major developments. He's well-liked, and life is good, not only for the Emirati people, who hold the best and most highly-paid jobs, but also for the thousands of guest workers like Deva whose jobs come with living accommdations, a month off each year and a round-trip plane ticket home. We met hotel managers from Switzerland, France and South Africa; taxi drivers from the Philippines, India and Tunisia; and waiters from Nepal and Holland. Arabic is the official language, but English is what everyone uses and learns. The government renews work visas every three years, but doesn't allow foreigners to become citizens, even by birth. At age 65, a guest worker is expected to return home for good. There's little crime, almost no petty theft or pick-pocketing and neighborhoods are lively late into the evening with restaurants and shops staying open late. 

 
 

How do all of these people, including millions of Western visitors who come to the beaches to drink and party, get along in a Muslim culture? The Emirati people have their rules when it comes to dress and alcohol, but don't impose them on outsiders. Men wear white head coverings and women wear black coats called abayas, but there are no laws requiring head scarves or other covering.

 

Alcohol is not forbidden in Dubai, as long as it is confined within an area like a hotel, which the government loosely defines as any development that includes a hotel on the property, opening the door for a complex to include restaurants and bars that serve drinks. 



 



 


Shopping malls have Starbucks AND Prayer Rooms, also an interesting sort of ATM-in-reverse scheme that allows shoppers to donate to charities by choosing a cause and paying for a donation with a debit or credit card.



 


For anyone planning to visit Dubai, I'd recommend spending a couple of days in the new city and and a couple in Bur Dubai (Old Dubai) and Deira, two historic and traditional neighborhoods populated now mainly by foreign workers. We booked a room in the Orient Guesthouse in the  Al Fahidi Historic district, built by Iranians in the 1800s on the banks of the Dubai Creek, a saltwater inlet flowing into the Persian Gulf. Little boats charge passengers 27 cents to cross from Bur Dubai to Deira, famous for its gold and spice souks and a hub for many lively Middle-Eastern restaurants with sidewalk tables. A little company called Frying Pan Adventuresrun by two sisters who grew up in Dubai, put on an excellent four-hour "Middle East Food Pilgramage" walking tour in Deira including a lesson on how to eat with our hands! Not the most attractive pose, but, hey, I was learning.


 




 



 


The Al Fahidi district includes 50 or so restored buildings housing cafes, art galleries, two hotels, mosques, a coffee museum and the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding. The center offers breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings to tourists interested in learning more about Emirati life and the Muslim religion. The experience was perfect for my Virtuoso story which will focus on taking visitors on a tasting tour of the Middle East by finding ways to explore traditional Arab cuisine.


 


Our host was native Emirati Waleed Nabil, 31. First came the traditional coffee and dates, followed by platters of various rice, lamb, vegetable and chicken stews and an Emirati favorite called luqaimat, little dough balls similar to donut holes, soaked in date syrup. He encouraged us to ask questions about anything. Soon the discussion drifted from food to the Emirati law that allows men to take up to four wives (Waleed has just one), to the ins and outs of traditional dress and what men wear under their robes (a sarong). 


 


One of the best reasons to stay in Bur Dubai is to wake up and walk around the corner for breakfast at the Arabian Tea house and Cafe in the former home of a wealthy pearl merchant. The cafe serves a full menu of traditional Arabic dishes  including several different breakfast trays. One of our favorite treats was chebab,  little yellow pancakes, colored with saffron and served with cheese and honey. When I asked about the big piece of bread flapping over the basket, the waiter invited us to the kitchen to photograph the oven-to-table baking process.


 


Onward to Myanmar. I'll contine Facebook posts from there as WI-FI allows. For more photos of our trip so far, see our 

PHOTO GALLERY that Tom put together.

Emirates from Seattle to Dubai: Even in coach, service is first-class

  
 
 


Emirates 777 vs A380 First Class. Which is better? That was a question posed by a blogger who flew both recently on nonstops to Dubai from Los Angeles (Airbus A330) and Seattle (Boeing 777-300ER).


At a fare of $16,000 for a first-class seat vs. the $1,000 I paid for an economy couch seat on my first Emirates flight, I don't have the answer, but I can say even the lowest tier seating on Emirates' 777-300ER is better than almost anything I've experienced on another airline.


Making the decision to scrap elite status on Delta next year for the freedom of finding better, cheaper connections almost anywhere, my husband and I took advantage of the chance  to earn miles on Alaska Airlines  by flying with partner Emirates  nonstop from Seattle to Dubai (14 hours) in the UAE, with onward connections to Rangon in Myanmar.
 


No free Dom Perignon or showers at 40,000 feet for us - Those are for reserved for A380 customers in first-class, enclosed private suites.. We could have purchased a glass of Monet for $25, but no reason to considering the wine was was free and plentiful. Seat pitch (32) and width (17) seemed about average, but lumbar support was excellent and legroom felt roomier than usual. The biggest difference was the quality of the seats. Coverings were made from a breathable, upholstered material. For some reason, our flight was half-full, even though the plane coming from Dubai was overbooked.  First and business class didn't appear to be filled.  l had three seats to myself including the aisle, pure luxury on a long-haul flight.


 


First class amenities include pajamas, slippers, and BVLGARI amenity kits. In economy, we received heavy-duty, padded headsets; a little pouch with eye shades, toothbrush, toothpaste, socks and ear plugs; and fleece blankets made from recycled plastic bottles - much softer and fluffier than the standard-issue thin polyester blankets most airlines provide. 


CHECKING IN


We were able to check in online, but not get our boarding pass until we arrived at the airport where passports could be scanned. Emirates is not a member of TSA's PreCheck program, so for the first time in a few years, we
 weren't able to use the special no-hassle security lines where inspectors don;t require passengers to take off shoes, belts, remove liquids and laptops etc. Checked baggage allotments are generous - two bags per person for a total of 77 pounds- but carry-on rules (15 pounds maximum weight in economy)  mean that most bags have to be checked. Overhead bins were large, but a bit hard to reach. Our flight attendants were a diverse group of men and women fluent in 18 languages, and representing 16  nationalities, a reflection of Dubai'spopulation itself   which is about 80 percent foreign/non-Emirati. The attendant in our cabin was Mexican from Guadalajara who has been working for Emirates for about a year and a half. 

 


MEALS

 

All meals are halal, following Muslim guidelines. Lunch was a vegetable salad with potatoes, green beans and olives; and a choice of chicken with saffron tomato sauce; lamb kofta, vegetarian mushroom and corn masala with Indian dal and cashew nuts; and raspberry cheese cake. A kitchen between the first and second Economy cabins stocked fresh fruit, Dove dark chocolate bars, juice, water and coffee for the taking anytime. Breakfast was fresh fruit, choice of cheese omelette, a pepper and potato fritter or green pea poha with flattened rice (No idea what this was, sorry) and a croissant. I'd rate the meals average, nothing special, but there were a few nice touches such as real metal cutlery and small individual cans of tonic water, soda etc. The timing seemed off a bit, considering we left Seattle at 9 a.m. (9 p.m. in Dubai), and lunch was served an hour after take-off.. It dawned on me that there was no need to reset my watch. Dubai is exactly 12 hours ahead of West Coast time. 


 



COMMUNICATION


Emirates helps even economy class passengers make the best of 14 hours in the air. Wi-Fi is free, with 10MB of data (that’s enough to search, send emails and update Facebook). For  $1,  we were able to  upgrade to 500MB, enough to stay connected throughout the  flight. Why bother with $1? I'm not sure, but it was easy enough to pay online with a credit card once we were airborne, then access e-mail, Facebook, the Web etc.


ENTERTAINMENT


No in-flight magazines in the seat pocket, but there were free copies of the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. The Emirates entertainment system which is  known as ICE (Information, Communication and Entertainment).  was voted as the best aviation entertainment system in the world

 in 2013 and 2014 by Skytrax. 


 


Emirates advertises it has 2,500 options for movies, music, TV series and games. Movies numbered around 100, including some Disney classics,  Arabic movies, classics and kid flicks, but oddly, few current, first-run films.. I took the selection offered has an opportunity to view a few movies I''d never seen including Papa Hemingway in Cuba and the Cafe  Society (I passed on Elvis and Nixon). Live TV channels included CNN, BBC, CNBC, Aljazeera in English, but no Fox News. One of the most entertaining "channels" was a promotional audio feed on medical tourism in Dubai, with tips on how to combine a face lift or hip replacement with a family beach holiday in an all-in-one "medical package."



DUELING FIRST CLASS


So back to the question about which aircraft has the best first-class. Sea-Tac Airport can't yet handle the A380, so Emirates flies two nonstops daily using the 777. The blogger, writing on BoardingArea.com, pointed out that most people would naturally choose the A380 first class over the 777, but for what reasons? 


"What the A380 definitely has working against it is that it has 14 first class seats, so the cabin is almost double the size of the 777. That means (at least in theory) that service won’t be as attentive and the cabin doesn’t feel quite as exclusive."


Some advantages, however, outweigh those negatives - the bar in back of business class, a small walk-up bar at the front of first-class, a considerably quieter and smoother ride, and faster wi-fi.  I have a friend who flew from Seattle to Los Angeles just to take the A380 first-class service to Dubai. He used his Alaska Air miles for the flight, and was not unhappy with his private suite and free-flowing Dom. Nice if you can swing it. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the $1 wi-fi and miniature bottles of Chenin-Blanc in Economy, knowing you'll have a few dollars extra to spend on that face lift. 

  

 

$99 Road Trip: Visiting Mount Rainier National Park in Winter


Mount Rainier's National Park Inn is open in winter

There were no wildflowers in bloom the first time I visited Mount Rainier National Park. Walls of snow flanked the road to Paradise. We brought along tire chains, boots and parkas.  It was January, our first full month of living in Seattle. My husband, Tom, and I were anxious to get as close as we could to the mountain we admired from the corner of our bedroom window.

We've returned in winter almost every year since to cross-country ski, snowshoe or just admire the park in its snowy splendor. Sometimes we spend the night. Other times, we take a spontaneous day trip with friends or house guests. Getting there, we have found, really is half the fun.

With sun breaks in the forecast after days of rain, we gassed up our four-wheel drive Subaru, and set out see what was new. Very little, we were happy to see. Most of the mom-and-pop businesses lining the road leading into the Nisqually entrance to the park (the only entrance in winter) have been there for years, and the small towns of Eatonville, Elbe and Ashford never seem to lose their charm. 

Our mission: A $99 road trip for a recent Seattle Times story. The total included gas, food, souvenirs, parking and entry fees for two.

Panini breakfast

We headed south on Interstate-5 at 8 a.m. for the 120-mile drive to Paradise, elevation 5,400 feet, on the south slope of Mount Rainier. Picking up SR 167 and SR 161 South, we saw the mountain in full view when we arrived in Eatonville around 9:30 a.m. Our first stop was the Cottage Bakery and Cafe, 212 Washington Ave. N. The little yellow house feels like a cozy mountain cabin, with seating on the porch on nice days. The mother daughter team of Alicia Nelson and Laurie Tartaglia plus assorted family members keep a glass case filled with cinnamon twists, Italian cannoli and homemade muffins and scones. We ordered two Americanos ($2.85 each) and a plump strawberry scone ($2.55).  When we asked to share the sun-dried  tomato turkey panini ($8.95), she cut a huge portion in half, served it on two plates and threw in an extra bag of chips. ($17.20 + $1.36 tax = $18.56)


Eatonville's Cottage Bakery & Cafe

 We finished breakfast in time to browse through the Holly Hut, 129 Washington Ave., where the owner, Nancy Iams,CQ describes her inventory as an eclectic mix of "garden decor and funky stuff," including tea cards, made with real tea bags and bags of sea salt chocolates in the shape of alligators. A cache of brightly colored planter rocks caught my eye. (14 rocks for $2+16 cents tax = $2.16).

Next door is the Rusty Snowflake Fabric Library, 135 Washington, where handmade coasters sell for ($2.50 + 20 cents tax = $2.70). Across the street at Blackstar Feed, 128 Washington, we found bars of Stringtown Farms' hemp seed oil soap, scented with rosemary and lavender, for ($4.50 + 35 cents tax = $.4.85).
Running total for the day so far: $28.27

The road to Mt. Rainier

Heading away from Eatonville towards Mount Rainier, the two-lane Alder Cutoff Road East joins Highway 7 at Alder Lake. From where SR 7 meets SR 706 in Elbe, it's 14 miles to the park entrance. 

Closed for the winter, is quirky Scaleburgers,  a roadside burger stand inside a former state weigh station. Just east of Elbe in Ashford, Dan Klennert's Recycled Spirits of Iron, 22410 SR 706, is officially open May-October, but other times visitors are welcome to park outside the gate, and walk around. This is a massive outdoor sculpture park filled with life-sized the life-sized figures of animals and other objects Klennert fashions from pieces of old machinery and scrap metals. There’s no charge, but Klennert accepts donations. 

Whittaker Mountaineering, 30027 SR 706, rents snowshoes and other winter gear. We like to make a stop at the cafe next door where a mini-museum celebrates the history of climbing on Mount Rainier and local mountaineering twins Jim and Lou Whittaker. There's an electric fireplace inside, but it was warm enough to sip our coffee on the deck. ($2.50 for two cups + 20 cents tax = $2.70)  If you're a gardner who composts, bring a container, and dip into a box on the porch labeled "free coffee grounds."

Just outside the park entrance is Alpine Gallery and Gifts, 37918 SR 706, a business Jim and Sandra Brand have run out of their log cabin home for 30 years. Watch for smoke pouring out of the chimney and a display of carved wooden bears and chainsaw art outside. Sandra paints landscape scenes on everything from frying pans to saw blades. Jim, a logger for more than 40 years, carves in a shop out back, recently modified so he can work from a wheelchair.  

A cancer survivor with a sense of humor, he loves entertaining customers with  inexpensive little "inventions," such as the Quarter Pounder, a contraption that brings a little wooden hammer down on a real quarter. One of these, plus a "Herd Starter Kit,'' a package of "cow'' seeds - four lima beans painted white with black spots - came to ($2.50 + 20 cents tax = $2.70).

This way to Pardise

The biggest expense of a one-day excursion to Mount Rainier is the the national park entry fee of $25 per car.   Running total: $58.67.

All cars - even four-wheel or all-wheel drives - are required to carry chains. Make sure you've got those, and have checked on road conditions before starting out. The road to Paradise, closed at night in winter, sometimes opens late if snow removal takes longer than expected.  

A more reliable first is stop Longmire (elevation 2, 700 feet), about 8.5 miles from the park entrance, where the National Park Inn, ranger station, a small museum and general store are open year-round. Bring or rent snowshoes (available in the general store) to walk along the Trail of the Shadows, a flat, three-quarter-mile loop that wends past the former location of the Longmire Springs Hotel opened in 1890 by explorer James Longmire. 


Snowshoeing at Mount Rainier
The road to Paradise was open and clear for our visit, and the upper parking lot near the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center was full by midday. Designated snowplay areas are open to  sledders and tubers, and there are trails for snowshoers and skiers. Recommended are ranger-guided snowshoe walks starting December 23. A donation of $5 is suggested, but not required, and includes snowshoes.  

Still full from our panini breakfast in Eatonville, we refilled water bottles in the visitor center, and snacked on our chips as we took in full-on views of the mountain along the 1.2-mile Nisqually Vista trail.

With the goal of descending from Paradise before dark, we  arrived back in Ashford around 4:30 p.m. and headed for an early dinner at the Copper Creek Inn, a cozy roadhouse two miles west of the park entrance on SR 706.  

It's a rare customer who doesn't order a wedge of the inn's signature homemade wild blackberry pie. We split a slice ($5.99) along with a veggie burger and fries ($9.99) and two iced teas ($4) (Total: $19.98 + $1.58 tax = $2.1.56.).  

Calculating our mileage at 220 miles round-trip from our house in Seattle, divided by 32 mpg (based on a Subaru Forester, one of Seattle’s best-selling cars), and gas at $2.75 per gallon, the metro area's average price on the day we traveled, our fuel cost was $18.90.
Grand total for the day’s outing for two = $99.13, plus tips where appropriate. 


If you go:

Winter at Mount Rainier

Most of Mount Rainier's roads are closed for winter. The road from Nisqually entrance to Longmire is open year-round, but may close during extreme weather. During the winter season the road between Longmire and Paradise closes nightly, though it may also remain closed during the day due to extreme weather or high avalanche danger.  

Call the park for current road conditions at 360-569-2211,or check MountRainierNPS on Twitter for road updates and opening/closing status of the Longmire gate
All vehicles are required to carry tire chains. 

Guided snowshoe walks: Rangers offer two-hour walks at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, December 23-March 26, with daily walks scheduled between Dec. 23-Jan 2. Register one hour before (no phone registration) at the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise. A five dollar donation is suggested but not required. 


Spending the night: The National Park Inn at Longmire has rooms with and without private bath, starting at $121 per night. Click here for ideas on where to stay outside the park. Whittaker's Bunkhouse offers simple rooms with private bath starting at $65. 



Spirits of the Okanagan: Distilleries take off in Canada's orchard country


Michele Montgomery makes a lavender lemonade at Legend Distilling's tasting room overlooking Okanagan Lake

At Legend Distilling's tasting room overlooking Okanagan Lake, bartender Michele Montgomery fills a mason jar with lavender lemonade, a warm-weather refresher made with gin infused with locally-grown lavender, elderberries, mint and apples.

There's "Slowpoke" vodka made with cherries from the orchard down the road, and "Blasted Brew," a cold-brewed spiked coffee liqueur crafted with a roast from neighboring Backyard Beans.

Visitors driving through British Columbia's Thompson Okanagan - a dry, desert region, surrounded by mountains and lakes - mostly notice vineyards spilling down terraced hillsides. The area is best known for its more than 170 wineries, producing grapes that thrive in the sunny climate.

But before the vineyards came orchards, and it's still tree fruit- cherries, apples, pears, peaches, apricots - that drives the local agricultural economy. 

Enter a wave of small-town, farm-to-flask craft distilleries specializing, by law, in spirits fermented and distilled on site, using only 100 percent British Columbian-grown grains and fruit, much of which might otherwise go to waste.

 "When it drops to the ground, it stays there," says German-born Jorg Engel, owner of Maple Leaf Spirits, a Penticton distillery with a tasting room overlooking Okanagan Lake on the Naramata Wine Route. A cabinet maker from Southern Germany, he formed the distillery in 2005, after noticing how much fruit wasn't being used because it either fell to the ground before it was picked, or was too bruised, misshapen or overripe for the export market.


Maple Leaf liqueurs
 "In my part of the world, when apples drop to the ground, they end up being distilled or sent to a juice factory. To see them wasted, well, it just hurt."

The distilleries, many with tasting rooms doubling as cozy cocktail lounges, offer an alternative to wine-tasting, but finding them can fell like going on a scavenger hunt. Some are off-the-beaten-path, a throwback to when laws restricted their locations and direct sales.
During four days in the area, my husband and I put together a self-guided tour that took us to the towns of Vernon, a lake area in the North Okanagan; Kelowna, the region's tourist hub, known internationally for its fruit and produce; and Penticton and Naramata in the South, home to many of the wineries.

"People are still a bit uneasy about drinking straight vodka or gin (the reason most of tasting rooms offer cocktails), so we're not getting the huge parking lots filled with tour buses," says Graham Martens, owner of Old Order Distilling Co in downtown Penticton.

Most distilleries offer short tours as well as tastings either free or for a small charge, waived with a purchase. Best advice: Take it slow, and plan your visits around another activity such as a bike ride, lake walk, or visit to a farm or cider. 

Here's a sampling of what you'll find:

Urban Distilleries, Kelowna

Where: Tucked inside a red and black building in an industrial park near downtown Kelowna. Look for the red neon "Open'' sign on the tasting room door in Unit 5.
Why visit: Inspired by a visit to a Cognac distillery in France, owner Mike Urban obtained his craft distillers license in 2009, when liquor laws required distilleries to locate in industrial zones.   Moving now would be too expensive, but he's created a welcoming lounge inside a tasting room stacked with colorful bottles from his "Spirit Bear'' line and oak barrels filled with aging "Burban" whiskey.


Mike Urban of Urban Distilleries in Kelowna

What to try or buy: Spirit Bear gin, made with grains, flowers, roots, fruits, and seeds from local farms, and infused with lavender and apples; Vodka blended with espresso supplied by Kelowna's Cherry Hill Coffee;  Kirsch brandy made from Okanagan Cherries, and fermented with the pits for a slight bitter-almond taste. Urban gets most of his cherries free from an orchard that culls out all but the most perfect fruit for export to China.  

Next up: A whiskey liqueur and honey mead wine. Urban is also experimenting with a chili vodka.
Urban Distilleries, 325 Bay Ave., Kelowna.  Proceeds from tastings go to the Save a Spirit Bear Foundation helping to preserve a rare sub-species of bear living in British Columbia.

Suggested side trip: Take a bike ride along the Myra Canyon Trail that follows a section of the former Kettle Valley Railway (KVR). The ride takes bikers over 18 trestles and through two tunnels, with high-up views of  the 84-mile-long Okanagan Lake. Bike rentals at www.myracanyonrental.com

Okanagan Spirits, Kelowna and Vernon 

Where: Relax with a cocktail on the barrel room patio at the downtown Kelowna tasting room, or visit the new Vernon distillery that transports visitors back to prohibition times with a 1932 Plymouth parked in front of gleaming, 2,000-liter copper pot still.


Okanagan Spirits' Prohibition-era tasting room 

Why visit: Owner Tony Dyck or another family member are often around to explain the distilling process to visitors. Dyck joined a group of investors working with Frank Deiter, a German distiller from Vernon, generally credited with pioneering small-batch distilling in Western Canada in the early 2000s. Dyck, his son, Tyler, and other family members bought Okanagan Spirits in 2010, and grew the company to include a line of 25 products including gins, vodkas, whiskies, fruit brandies, liqueurs and absinthe.




Okanagan Spirit's Kelowna tasting room 

What to try/buy: Unique is its Haskap liqueur made from the kidney-shaped haskap berry, a cross between a raspberry, blueberry and blackcurrant, with high levels of Vitamin A and C, grown for Okanagan Spirits by two local farms. When a local woman walked in one day with a bucket of orange sea buckthorn berries, often used in skin and hair care products, Okanagan's distiller went to work and came up with an anti-oxident-packed Sea Buckthorn liqueur that pairs well with cheese or spicy ginger beer. 

Next up: The October release (around 2,000 bottles) of its Laird of Fintry single-malt whiskey, made from B.C. malted barley, and sold for $75 a bottle through an annual lottery.
Okanagan Spirits, 367 24th St., Vernon and 267 Bernard Ave., Vernon. 

Suggested side trip: Downtown Vernon has one of the largest collections of outdoor art in Canada. Vernon Murals, features 27 murals as large as five stories high and a block long that depict the city's history, culture and folklore. 

Old Order Distilling Co., Penticton

Where: Graham Martens' copper still sits behind a pane of explosion-proof glass behind his tasting room in downtown Penticton. Old photos of fruit-pickers line the walls. Ceiling fans spin above wooden tables and church pews, a reminder of his  Southern Russian ancestors, the Old Order Mennonites, known for traditional ways of living, including making their own beer and spirits.



A tasting at Old Order Distilling in Penticton
Why visit: Looking for for ways to diversify his family's cherry and apple orchards business, Martens, a fisheries biologist, and his wife, Naomi Gabriel, opened their distillery last year. The cozy  lounge makes for a refreshing stop on a hot day for cocktails such as the Okanagan Collins, made with Old Order's Heritage Vodka, Martens' homemade peach liqueur, lime juice and club soda.

What to try/buy: Martens is concentrating these days on making triple-distilled vodka and a lavender-free Dutch-style gin, infused with dried apples from the family farm. His newest product is Black Goat Vodka, a spirit with the same taste as regular vodka but black in color due to an infusion of plant-sourced minerals. When in stock (It was recently sold out), Martens suggests using it to mix a black Martini or "dark" Moscow Mule.

Next up: Genesis Whiskey, ready in 2018, following the rule that Canadian whiskey has to be aged at least three years and one day.
Old Order Distilling Co., 270 Martin St, Penticton 


Suggested side trip: Explore the galleries and cafes along Front Street, or explore Main Street, lined with historic buildings, shops and restaurants. Or take a drive south to Shaka Lake and the towns of Oliver and Osoyoos.

Maple Leaf Spirits, Penticton

Where: Perched on hill above Okanagan Lake and the terraced vineyards of the Naramata Wine Route.

Why visit: While parents do a tasting, kids can entertain themselves with the mini-zoo Jorg and Anette Engel maintain on their property. Greeting visitors are Senegal parrots, a Polish rooster, pheasants and chickens.   



Jörg Engel and his Polish rooster

What to try/buy: Engel uses apricots from a neighbor's orchard, locally-grown pears and Italian plums, and grapes from his own vineyards to produce a line of clear fruit brandies and liqueurs. Unique are his grape spirits  - a Gewürztraminer  and Syrah - similar to Italian Grappa, made from the skins and pits of grapes. His signature product is a Maple liqueur made from Kirsch and organic Canadian maple syrup, recommended in "Canadian" coffee or poured over creme brûlée.

Next up: Cognac, raspberry liqueur and a port wine. 
Maple Leaf Spirits, 948 Naramata Road, Penticton. 

Legend Distilling, Naramata 

Where:  Eight miles north of Maple Leaf Spirits, on the Naramatra Wine Route. Similar spectacular mountain,lake and vineyard views. 

Why visit: Legend is the only distillery to have a restaurant on site. Pull up a stool at the bar in the Legend Lounge for a tasting, or relax at one of the outdoor picnic tables over a Dirty Bee, made with Defender Island Smoked Rosemary gin, honey and lemon, served in a mason jar. When Doug and Dawn Lennie went shopping for a copper still, they found there was a two-year wait for German-made equipment, so they ordered a still made by a Canadian manufacturer. It sits in the glassed-in front of the former doctor's office they transformed into a distillery and tasting room


Mason jar cocktails at Legend Distilling

What to try/buy: Blasted Brew Spiked Coffee with hints of dark chocolate and vanilla; the Slowpoke strawberry-rhubarb, sour cherry and "farmberry'' vodkas; and the Doctor's Orders gin, if not for the gin, then for the inscription on the heavy, black bottle. "British Columbians did prohibition better than anyone else," says a story on the back. "No, you couldn’t buy alcohol, but if you were feeling under the weather your physician could prescribe you a cocktail."

Next up:  A new European-style liqueur and a whiskey to be released "whenever it tastes good,'' says Doug Lennie. 
Legend Distilling, 3005 Naramata Road, Naramata.  

Suggested side trip: If returning to or heading towards Kelowna, stop at Summerland Sweets, specializing in jams, syrups and wines made with Okanagan fruit. Locals recommend the ice cream. 



If you go:

Getting there: The Thompson Okanagan (Okanagan Valley) region is in southern British Columbia. The name comes from two major geographic features, the Thompson River and Okanagan Lake. 

Kelowna is about 300 miles from Seattle via Interstate 5 north, the Trans-Canada Highway and BC-97C. An alternate route (350 miles) is through Eastern Washington via I-5 North to WA-20 E, US-97 N. and the Okanagan Hwy/BC-97 N. Count on a 5-7 hour drive. 

Where to stay: Hello BC lists hotels, resorts, bed and breakfasts and other accommodations. We rented a two-bedroom suite with a kitchen in a private home in Kelowna through Airbnb for $104 (US) per night. 

Where to eat: The Smugglers Smoke House at Legend Distilling serves snacks, lunch and dinner. Many wineries have restaurants attached to their tasting rooms, some with outdoor patios and lake views. Locals recommend the Pecking Room Patio Grill at the Red Rooster Winery and the Kitchen at the Misconduct Wine Co.

Customs: Bringing alcohol into the U.S. Travelers can bring back one liter of alcohol per person duty-free, more if you declare it and pay the duty. Prices at craft distilleries range from $25- $50 or more (Canadian), plus taxes, depending on the spirit and size of the bottle. 



$99 Road Trip: Bacon whiskey and apple fritters along Washington state capital's back roads



Seed expert Maurrie Aukland at the Olympia Farmers Market

Free bikes, free parking, free samples. We found them all, along with $2 root beer floats and sips of bacon whiskey, on a self-guided tour along the backroads of our state capital.
Our roadmap: The Thurston Bountiful Byway, a 60-mile agritourism route pointing visitors to craft distillers, winemakers, farmers and family-owned businesses showcasing a literal bounty of locally-sourced and 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 work off the calories on hiking trails or paved bike paths. 

Stretching from Mud Bay in Tumwater, just west of Olympia; skirting the Capitol State Forest; running east towards Yelm; and north to Lacey and the Nisqually Valley, the byway was created by the county several years ago to promote economic development. Thanks to the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor and Convention Bureau which took over marketing last year, a new website and map make it easier for visitors to customize an outing based on their time and interests. 

The map includes listings for 21 businesses that paid a $200 membership fee for marketing, but there are many others worth a stop. Reporting recently for The Seattle Times, My husband, Tom, and I used the map as a guide, detouring off the prescribed route several times to take a short cut or make our own discoveries. 

Our day's budget: $99, including gas,food, souvenirs, parking and entry fees for two.

Breakfast with mission

We headed south on Interstate-5 at 7:30 a.m. on a sunny Saturday for the 67-mile drive to Olympia from our home in Magnolia. Our goal was to make it to the New Moon Cooperative Cafe,  113 4th Ave W. , before the weekend breakfast rush. Taking exit 105 towards City Center/Port of Olympia, we caught a glimpse of the Capitol dome before scoring our first bargain of the day. Just as Tom was about to plug the parking meter, a motorist rolled down her window, and shouted,"Hey sir. You don't have to pay on the weekend!''  

The worker-owned and managed New Moon includes in its mission statement the goal of "growing strong relationships with local farmers, producers and distributors." This meshed well with our mission.

Knowing we had lots of snacking, sampling and sipping ahead,  we split a veggie scramble with a biscuit and rosemary-garlic homefries ($9.85 plus $1 extra for the biscuit) along with coffee ($2.65) and a Chai tea ($3.50). With just 10 tables, the New Moon fills up fast. There was a line outside by the time we finished about 10 a.m. ($17.00 + $1.50 tax = $18.50).

Four blocks from the New Moon is the Olympia Farmers Market, 700 Capitol Way N.  open Thursday-Sunday 10 a.m.- 3p.m. 

Into my bag (and later into the cooler we brought along in the car) went a pound of Calliope CQ Farms yellow and green wax beans for a pickling project ($5, no tax). Into our mouths went a lemon macaroon ($2, no tax) and miniature  canelé ($2, no tax), a small pastry with a soft custard center sold by a stand called the Left Bank. 



Miniature canele from the Left Bank 


If all goes well, we'll be harvesting beats and radishes grown from seeds we bought from Maurrie Aukland, an English teacher from Elma, Wa. and a self-described "seed saver who loves to teach people how to garden." She cultivates dozens of varieties of veggie, bean and flower seeds, packaged in decorative paper envelopes for $2.50 each. We bought two for $5, tax covered in the price. 

Back to Nature

The byway map suggests several possibilities for short hikes, including two in the 100,000-acre Capitol State Forest. Leaving the market, we drove 7.7 miles to the McLane Creek Nature Trail off two-lane Delphi Road. The hike was an easy 1.5 loop on crushed gravel and wooden boardwalks around a lake dotted with cattails and pond lilies. Also worth a stop is nearby Mimi Mounds Natural Area Preserve , with trails and an interpretive center explaining various theories on how mound-shaped land formations in the area evolved. You'll need a state Discover Pass to visit both. If you don't have a $30 annual pass, buy a $10 day pass online or through a local vendor.


Mama Mounds Natural Area Preserve

Running total for the day so far: $42.50 including $10 Discover Pass

Bacon whiskey

Driving 10 miles along paved Highway 121, we arrived just as Jenni Bourdon CQ was opening the tasting room at Sandstone Distillery, 842 Wright Rd SE. 


John Bourdon of Sandstone Distillery
Named for the sandstone industry that flourished in the early 1900s in nearby Tenino, the distillery uses Washington-grown grains to make its gin, vodka and whiskey.  A tasting and tour for two ($10, no tax) included a look at John Bourdon's copper stills, and a sample of bacon whiskey flavored with help from a neighbor's pigs fed Sandstone's spent grain. At $35 a bottle, including tax, the whiskey was out of our price range. More suited to our budget were small bottles of basil or lime syrup ($3, no tax) to use as cocktail mixers.

Wooden money

Sandstone quarries and logging drove the economy of Tenino in the early 1900s. When concrete replaced sandstone, the town's fortunes waned. The Great Depression put the little town on the map when the chamber of commerce began issuing wooden money printed on thin slices of spruce and cedar as emergency script following a bank failure in 1931.

Town promoters still use an old printing press inside the Tenino Depot Museum to print souvenir copies of the "slicewood'' bills that can be spent like cash at participating local businesses. We bought two at face value for $1 each, and walked over to Aunt Kate's Chocolates, 296 Sussex Ave. W. , to see what we could buy. The chocolates were pricey, but the root beer float was a bargain and big enough to split ($2 worth of wooden script, no tax).


Stone carver Keith Phillips

Stone-carving may be dead as an industry, but locals keep it alive as an art form. A passer-by pointed us to the workshop of Keith Phillips, 147 Olympia Street. A carver for 32 years, Phillips makes decorative pieces and worked on the restoration of the Olympia Capitol dome. 

With several more stops on our list, we didn't have time to try out the free bikes available through the non-profit Tenino Yellow Bike Project, started by a community group in 2001. We'll bring helmets next time, and plan a ride along the paved, 14-mile Yelm-Tenino trail.
Running total: $57.50

Burgers, cider and wine

From Tenino, we drove north along Old Highway 99 to reach two destinations not listed on the byway map.

Carolyn Lattin, 84, and daughters, Debbie Lattin and Sherrie Kohlmann,  invite visitors to picnic and feed the goats, chickens, peacocks, and other animals at Lattin's Country Cider Mill and Farm, 9402 Rich Road.

The family has been pressing apples for cider every week for 40 years, churning out 6,000 gallons a week during the busiest four months, starting in September. If the sign out front says "Hot Apple Fritters Today," you're in luck. They often sell out before noon. We bought one to take home ($2, no tax). When I asked about the peacock feathers for sale next to the pie case, the clerk threw one in for an extra $1.  

Our choice for a late lunch was Van's Burger, 7811 Yelm Highway, a drive-up stand in a trailer that advertises itself as "The Place That's Never Open."  

Limited hours (Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. through October), and made-from-scratch shakes and burgers popular with locals, can mean long lines. "We usually have a lag time around 3 p.m.," says owner Erica Van Lierop. We pulled in around that time, and had our shakes (two fresh peach at $3.50 each + .50 tax = $7.50) and Washington beef burgers ($5 and $5.50 + .91 tax = $11.40) in a few minutes. Total for lunch: $18.90. 

Back on the byway route, with the option of visiting three wineries, another distillery and a brewery before heading home, we ended with a quick stop at Medicine Creek Winery, 947 Old Pacific Highway SE ,  owned by former pumpkin farmers, Jim and Liz Myers. Jim transformed an old barn into a New Orleans-style tasting room resembling an old-fashioned saloon. We arrived at 4 p.m., an hour before closing, plenty of time to do a shared tasting ($5, no tax), and relax a while in the garden furnished with comfy wicker chairs.

Running total: $84.40

Calculating our mileage at 176 miles round-trip from in Seattle, divided by 32 mpg (based on a Subaru Forester, one of Seattle’s best-selling cars), and gas at $2.70 per gallon, the metro area's average price on the day we traveled, our fuel cost was $14.85.

Grand total for the day’s outing for two = $99.25, plus tips where appropriate. 
  

If you go:

Where:

The Olympia area is 60 miles south of Downtown Seattle via I-5. The Bountiful Byway route is accessible from various points in Thurston County, or from I-5 via Nisqually Valley Exit 114 or from US-101 via the Mud Bay Exit. ​

Spending the night: Take in the views of Mount Rainier from the Prairie Hotel in Yelm. Weekend rates start at $109 per night