Nov 11, 2023

Icelandair comes through with compensation for flight delays


Iceland's Keflavik airport

Most airlines would rather you not find out too easily about EC Regulation 261, commonly referred to as EU 261, granting passengers the right to seek compensation when they have experienced delayed (two to four hours or more), cancelled, or overbooked flights.

The policy applies to all airlines flying out of or within the EU and many non-EU countries, even U.S. based airlines. But few American travelers are familiar with this rule, and airlines are rarely pro-active in passing on this information.

Icelandair is the exception. Not only does it let passengers know of the policy via brochures labeled "Compensation and Assistance" stocked at all its counters inside Reykjavik's Keflavik's airport, it processes claims promptly and pays up quickly.

Icelandair spells out passenger rights

Less than a month after I submitted a claim for a seven-hour delay in a flight from Reykjavik to Rome in October, I received an email from the airline saying my claim had been approved. As per EU rules, the compensation totaled 600 euros ($648) each for my husband and me. We provided our bank account info as requested, and the cash was deposited the next day.

Do an internet search for "EU rule 261" and see how many complaints and questions come up as to how to actually get compensation that is owed. Many frustrated travelers turn to private fee-based services, such as, for help wading through the rules and paperwork.

Icelandair made the application easy, providing a link to an online form that asked only for passenger details, date and time of the flight, ticket numbers and boarding pass information. 

I received an immediate automated response saying the forms had been received, and a case number assigned. Two weeks later, I received another email thanking me for my patience and assuring me that processing was underway. One week later, I received the notice that we had been awarded the 600 euros each, based on an EU formula that takes into account the length of the delay and the destination. 

The EU rule allows for a few exceptions, such as weather, strikes etc., but not technical problems or, as happened with our flight, changes due a shortage of aircraft or crew.

Had this happened in the United States, the airline would owe us nothing but an apology. There are no federal laws requiring airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation when flights are delayed. 

When it coms to the EU rules, the major U.S. airlines tend not to be as transparent as European-based carriers. Find all the information you need here to see if your delay or cancellation qualifies, and how to file a claim. Depending on the country, you have from one to three years to file a claim.

For a flight to be eligible for compensation under EU 261, it must be either departing from a Member State—one of the 27 EU countries, plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, as well as most outlying territories—or departing from a nonmember country with a destination within a Member State.

The rule includes flights departing from the EU to the U.S. (but not from the U.S. to the EU) and some other countries and even connecting flights within the U.S. operated by U.S. partners of EU airlines. This means that any U.S. domestic flight booked through an EU airline on a single itinerary will be covered by the law. 

You can try finding the same information on your airline's website, but a simple search for "EU 261" turns up nothing on most U.S. carriers.

United is an exception. Type "EU 261" in the search window and this link comes up, along with instructions on how to file a claim.

British Airways publishes the information hereAmerican Airlines makes the rule easy to find on its UK booking site, but not on its US. site.  Delta hides the information under the obscure title of Exit European Union (EU) Compensation Request 

Keep in mind that whether the airline makes the process easy or difficult, you can be confident that if you have a qualifying flight, you will eventually be compensated. The EU has strict penalties in place for airlines that don’t comply with this regulation. And although an airline might offer a voucher, the law says you are entitled to cash.

Oct 30, 2023

Italian days: Wild boars, sheep in the road, tasty meatballs and old friends


Maria, Dante with their homemade meatballs and peas

"Be careful," warned my friend Maria. "There are wild boars roaming around."

My husband,Tom, and I have made many memories traveling around Southern Italy's rural Campania region.  

Perhaps this time, we'd make another. 

As it turned out, we encountered no boars, but we did run into a flock of sheep blocking both sides of a two-lane road leading to Greci, a hill town between Bari and Naples, where my grandfather was born.

Sheep in the road on the way to Greci

Maria and her husband, Dante, live in nearby Ariano Irpino. We met 13 years ago on our first visit to Greci. Maria's mother was born there, and Maria, who lived for a while in England, speaks fluent English.

After touring Greci, we enjoyed a memorable meal at their home, including prosciutto from the recently-slaughtered family pig. We met again a few years ago, this time while we were exploring more of Southern Italy with my husband's brother, Al, and his wife, Nancy.

Al mopped up Maria's sauce with his bread, a gesture for which Dante bestowed on him the title of "Buona Forchetta," or Beautiful Fork, roughly translated "Good Eater."

It's been our good fortune to have stayed in touch with Maria and Dante and others in Italy whom we've met over the years during family visits (Tom's family is from Southern Italy and Sicily) and through story assignments for the Seattle Times and other publications. 

When the Covid pandemic ended and we had a chance to travel again, I stole an idea from another journalist whom I admire: Pick destinations where you know people, and make plans to reconnect.

On this trip, a return to our favorite big city in Italy - Naples - and a desire to see something new - Lecce, a Baroque jewel box in southern Puglia - were the jumping off points for visits with several sets of old friends. A bonus was detouring through or staying in towns tourists rarely find a reason to visit. 

Navigating our way around the sheep in a rental car was nerve-wracking, but worth it considering the reason we were on this back road was because we had detoured through the tiny town of San Marco dei Cavoti, the center of torrone production (nougat candy) in Southern Italy. We stopped at a century-old shop for vintage boxes of torrone baci (chocolate nougat), then found a bakery with a few tables on a shady patio. The warm weather called for sampling our new favorite coffee drink - crema di caffe -  an icy, whipped concoction of espresso, cream and sugar eaten with a spoon. 

Crema di Caffe in San Marco

Waiting for us in Greci was Rita DiMinno, the town's unofficial ambassador to American visitors, many of whom are members of an online group called Greci Cousins. Rita was born in Greci but moved to Australia with her family as a young girl after her father, a shoemaker, found work there. Rita learned English, and returned to Greci for a visit. There she met, and later married her late husband, Pino Perillo.

Rita in her kitchen with her homemade tiramisu served with a shot of Strega, an herbal liquer from the nearby town of Benevento.

Greci's history is unique because it is one of 51 Italian towns settled by Albanians between the 15th and 18th centuries. The communities call themselves "Arbereshe,'' and the people in these towns speak an Albanian dialect as well as Italian. 

Albanian soldiers settled in Greci sometime in the mid-1400s when the King of Naples invited them to relocate after the military leader, Skanderbeg, answered a call to help the Italians defeat French-supported insurrections. 

A new monument in Greci honors the Albanian war hero Skanderbeg

Nearly 4000 people lived in Greci in the 1950s. Now there are only about 450, most of them retired. But things are looking up as more people from Naples make their summer homes here. After a slice of her homemade tiramisu, Rita took us on a walk around town to show us what was new including a new monument dedicated to Skanderbeg, a new restaurant (the only one in town) and several bed and breakfasts in addition to a caffe/bar and a doctor who makes house calls.

The new restaurant in Greci is called Ha e Pi,  Arbëresh for Eat and Drink.  

Rita, Tom and me in front of her home in Greci

Together again with Dante and Maria

After our walk with Rita, we had dinner once again with Maria and Dante in Ariano. They fixed a pasta with homemade tomato sauce and a traditional dish of homegrown peas and meatballs, followed by fresh figs from their tree. They didn't kill a pig this year, so no prosciutto. Maybe next year, they said, if they can get some help. I see a return visit in our future.

Sant'Agata dei Goti

Sant' Agata dei Goti

Our next stop was Sant' Agata dei Goti, an ancient town built on a rock cliff above a river in an area called the Sannio, off-the-radar compared to Tuscany in the north, but an abundant agricultural area known for its wine.

Sant' Agata historical center

In 2008, while searching for a place to stay, we found Sentieri Luminosi, a recently opened bed and breakfast. Our hosts were Loredana Fusaro, then a cook at a local restaurant and massage therapist, and her husband, Enrico Pofi, a photographer. They moved here from Naples, and bought a 19th-century stone building on a bluff overlooking the town. We were their first non-Italian guests, and since they both spoke some English, we got to know each other. I wrote a story about the Sannio which included a mention of Sentieri Luminosi, and a picture of Loredana and Enrico in their yard surrounded by fig trees.

Fast forward to 2023. Enrico and I connected on Facebook. Yes, they remembered us, and would be happy to meet. We set a time and date for a rendezvous in town for a drink, then they generously invited us back to their home for lunch. A few minutes in the kitchen, and Loredana had assembled a meal of pasta, local cheeses, salami, olives, cooked greens, bread and wine.  

Lunch with Enrico and Loredana 

We talked and ate at the same table where we had breakfast 15 years ago. Loredana went into her file drawer and pulled out a copy of the story I had written which she had saved all these years. It was one of those moments that we all hope for when we travel, a time when we no longer feel like tourists, but friends.

The Arch of Trajan


Our base for exploring Campania was Benevento, a mid-sized city about 30 miles northeast of Naples. Reminders that it once flourished as a Roman colony include a restored Roman theater, an archeological  park and an arch at the entrance of the town, built in 114, considered to be among the best-preserved Roman structures in Campania.

Shop selling all things Strega

Benevento became famous for two things: witches and Strega, a powerful greenish-yellow herbal liqueur, served and sold everywhere as a drink and in chocolate candies and torrone. Thirteenth-century folklore spread the belief that Benevento would be a gathering place for Italian witches. Many famous writers, musicians and artists wove tales of witches into their works, taking inspiration from the Benevento legend. 

Strega takes its name from the legend of the streghe (Italian for witches). its label depicts the streghe dancing under a walnut tree.

Strega includes 70 herbal ingredients include saffron

Benevento's main street is pedestrianized with side streets leading to hidden restaurants and cafes. There's a Sunday flea market and a lively early-evening passegiatta when friends and families meet for a stroll, a drink or last-minute shopping before the stores close.  Some years ago, while staying at a B&B in Tbilisi, Georgia, we met Gianna Fusco, an Italian professor whose home town was Benevento.

We stayed in touch, and met up a few years ago in Naples where Gianna was teaching. When she saw on Facebook that we were again in Italy, she got in touch. Although she now lives in L'Aquila where she teaches American literature and American studies, she drove to Benevento to meet us. We owe her mother a big thank you for a bottle of the homemade limoncello she sent our way, and Giana an invitation to come visit in Seattle.

Tom, Gianna and I in Benevento. The obelisk in the background was originally erected for the Roman Temple of Isis. Heroglyphs appear on four sides 

Last stop: Rome

Rome has been so inundated with tourists, we had decided not to stop, and instead take a train directly from Benevento to the airport to catch a flight to Reykjavik, Iceland. We changed our mind when we found out our old friend, Letizia Mattiacci, had relocated there after selling her bed and breakfast inn in Assisi. 

Letizia and us in Rome

It was 20 years ago, that we found Agriturismo Alla Madonna del Piatto five miles off the main highway above Assisi in the central Italy.

Letizia and her Dutch husband, Ruurd de Jong, gave up careers as entomologists to buy and renovate the abandoned farmhouse built centuries ago as a refuge for shepherds.

With six cozy rooms, breakfast and dinner, Alla Madonna made an ideal base for visiting the medieval villages of Umbria, and since Letizia offered cooking classes, we were able to take advantage of a rainy afternoon to trade in a few hours of sightseeing for the chance to tinker in an Italian kitchen.

It was a memorable experience that made its way into a story for The Times. Letizia, like Loredana in Sant' Agata, had saved a copy of the print version that included a picture of her. 

After two years of dealing with a difficult family situation, Letizia, the author of two cookbooks, has reinvented herself in Rome. We met for a drink in her new neighborhood, Appio Latino, a short Metro ride from the historical center. She has launched a new business - Madonna del Piatto - and restarted cooking classes. Instead of a farmhouse,  students will find themselves in an authentic Roman neighborhood devoid of tourists. There they will spend several rewarding hours cooking in Letizia's kitchen, then sharing a four-course lunch in her dining room.

Hosteria L'Orso 80

Our visit with Letizia was worth detouring to Rome for one night, but I wasn't sorry we weren't staying on. The crowds were getting on my nerves as we walked in a human traffic jam past the Trevi Fountain to a restaurant near the Piazza Navona that's always been a favorite. 

I reluctantly made reservations, expecting it to be flooded with tourists and service to be rushed. But as we got closer, the crowds seemed to disappear, and there, on a quiet street, was Hosteria L'Orso 80, mostly as we remembered it. 

The warm weather meant we could sit on the patio. We ordered what we always order  - the antipasti della casa -- more than a dozen bowls  filled with roasted eggplant, zucchini, peppers, prosciutto, salami, cheeses, salads, melon and meatballs.

The price has gone up a bit since we first visited years ago, but not much else has changed. A man still sits at a vintage cashier's desk inside tallying up the bills. Sometimes the waiter will throw in an extra meatball.

After a week spent reconnecting with Italian friends, D'Orso felt like an old friend too. 

Oct 23, 2023

Bella Napoli: Our favorite Italian city

Asked to name a favorite Italian city, few would pick noisy, crowded traffic-choked Naples, Italy's third largest city just south of Rome.  

Yet here we are, sipping a spritz and lemon granita at a sidewalk table as motorcycles whiz by, and happy music blasts from inside a cafe on the edge of the Spanish Quarter.

Rome has its antiquities. Florence has its art. Naples' draw has always been its setting, with Vesuvius, still an active volcano, looming behind a sparkling bay and busy working waterfront. Most visitors head for the National Archaeological Museum to see its collection of artifacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum, towns buried by the volcano's eruption in 79 A.D., then use the harbor as jumping-off point for trips to the islands of Capri and Ischia.

Now more travelers are discovering the city itself as it welcomes tourists with crowded but safe, well-lighted streets, open-air restaurants, walking tours and Airbnbs. Its reputation for scooter-riding bag snatchers lives mostly in the past, helped by television personalities such as Stanley Tucci who featured its fried pizza in the first installment of his popular CNN travel show "Searching for Italy." 

Crowds on Via Toledo waiting for fried pizza

Street food is best eaten on the street 

We make it a point to spend a few days in Naples whenever we're in Southern Italy. On this trip, Naples was the jumping off point for a trip to Lecce, a lovely Baroque town in Apulia five hours south by train in the heel of Italy's boot.

Ruled first by the Greeks, then Romans, Normans, Spanish and French, Naples is divided into 21 zones, each with a collection of monuments, palaces and Gothic and Baroque-style churches whose plain facades hide interiors filled with frescoes, paintings and elaborate marblework.

Having seen all the major sites on past trips, we settled in here in the Spanish Quarter, a warren hilly, narrow streets and slim houses, built in the 16th century to house Spanish occupying troops. Just a few steps west of the chic shops on Via Toledo, the "Quartieri Spagnoli " is a traditionally poor area that's rapidly gentrifying. The modest Il Convento hotel where we stayed in past years now quotes rates of $200 and up. The Hosteria Toledo, a corner  restaurant that was once a favorite, gets bad reviews. American-style eggs and pancakes are on the menu at Birdy's Bakery, a breakfast spot in the nearby Chiaia neighborhood. 

Our neighborhood market: Part vegetable stand, part religious shrine

But authenticity is there to discover. Our Airbnb on the fifth floor (no lift) of a stone building required four keys to enter. Laundry flaps from our neighbors' balconies. Wandering through the Pignasecca street market, we found traditional Neopolitan pastries such as fiocchi di neve, little brioche snowballs filled with cream. The best cafes are in a funicular ride away in Vomero, a quiet, upper-class neighborhood high above fray, appreciated by locals for its cooler temperatures and parks. The best pizzas cost no more than 10 euros, and nowadays, go way beyond the traditional Margherita (Buffalo mozzarella, tomato sauce, olive oil and basil) to vegan and gluten-free offerings with toppings such as ricotta cheese and zucchini flowers.

Fiocchi di neve

A street in the Spanish Quarter looking towards the Galleria Umberto, an 1887 indoor shopping mall with an arched glass and iron dome.

 Castellammare cable car 

An easy day trip out of Naples is a train ride along the Sorrentine coast to Sorrento. Most people use the Circumvesuviana line from Naples Centrale station to go to Pompeii, but if you've seen Pompeii, then consider visiting some of the other towns just past the ruins You'll have the train to yourself since almost everyone gets off at Pompeii. Two of our favorites were Castellammare di Stabia and Sant'Agnello.

Castellammare was built over the ruins of the ancient Stabiae: like Pompeii, a village totally destroyed in 79 AC by the eruption of Vesuvio.The cable car takes about eight minutes to reach the top of Mt. Faito, 4,500 feet above sea level, opening up sweeping views of the town, the Gulf of Naples and Vesuvius. Locals enjoy the park for picnics and walks in the cool mountain air during the summer.

The walk from Sant' Agnello with Vesuvius in the background

Sant' Agnello is the last town before Sorrento heading east on the Circumvesuviana. If you're up for a scenic walk, exit the train here and follow a path along the coastal road all the way to Sorrento. The walk is a little over a mile and takes about 30 minutes. Along the way, you'll pass luxury hotels perched on the cliffs overlooking the sea and fancy beach clubs below.

La Marinella Beach Club 

Sorrento: Gateway to the Amalfi Coast

By now you'll probably have had your fill of crowded trains, so take a high-speed ferry back to Naples from Sorrento's Marina Piccola port. You can walk to the port from Piazza Tasso by descending about 100 steps, or take a bus. The ferry ride takes about 45 minutes, time enough to have an Aperol Spritz onboard while you pass by Vesuvius, and consider what life is like for the three million people who live close enough to be affected by another eruption. 

Oct 17, 2023

Flight delayed in Europe? EU rules require compensation


Keflavik Airport

When Icelandair announced a seven-hour delay in a connection my husband and I were making from Reykjavik to Rome after a morning flight from Seattle, I began making mental contingency plans.

Any further delays would cause us to miss the last train of the evening to Naples, our final destination. If that happened, we'd be stuck in Rome for the night where last-minute hotel bookings were going for $500 and up. In desperation, I did a quick Google search on where to find the best lounge chairs for stretching out in Fiumicino airport.

As it turned out, our flight from Reykjavik landed in Rome at 9:30 p.m., time enough for us to run with our carry-ons to the station inside the airport. We made the last train leaving at 9:53 p.m. There was no time to stop and buy a ticket, so we begged the conductor to let us pay on the train, He did, and even giving us a discount from the normally higher price. The train pulled out as scheduled, putting us into Naples at midnight, a full 24 hours after leaving Seattle. 

Had this happened in the United States, the airline would owe us nothing but an apology. There are no federal laws requiring airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation when flights are delayed.  

But was Europe, and since Icelandair is based in the EU, almost all of its flights are protected by Regulation EC 261, one of the most comprehensive laws protecting air passenger rights worldwide.

EC Regulation 261 grants passengers the right to seek compensation when they have experienced delayed (two to four hours or more), cancelled, or overbooked flights, with few exceptions. Those include weather, strikes, security risks etc. but not technical problems.

Bottom line: We each qualified for 400 euros in compensation for the delay which Iceland Air admitted was caused by “a shortage of aircraft,” in this case meaning our plane, originally scheduled to leave Reykjavik for Rome at 8:30 a.m., had to be diverted to Dublin.

For a flight to be eligible for compensation under EU 261, it must be either departing from a Member State—one of the 27 EU countries, plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, as well as most outlying territories—or departing from a nonmember country with a destination within a Member State.

The rule includes flights departing from the EU to the U.S. (but not from the U.S. to the EU) and some other countries and even connecting flights within the U.S. operated by U.S. partners of EU airlines. This means that any U.S. domestic flight booked through an EU airline on a single itinerary will be covered by the law. 

The policy applies to all airlines, even U.S. based carriers. Few American travelers are familiar with this rule, and airlines are rarely pro-active in passing on this information.

Icelandair was the exception. Not only did the airline send us text messages saying meal vouchers would be automatically added to our boarding passes while we waited (also an EU requirement), we were handed brochures outlining the rules, and referencing an Iceland Air customer support website where we could fill out claim forms.

There are worse airports in which to be forced to spend seven hours than Iceland's Keflavik, but few are more expensive. 

Leaving the airport on a long layover is out of the question, considering the Keflavik is 30 from downtown Reykjavik, and the bus ride costs $50 each way.

Crowds boarding at Keflavik airport

Our $40 meal vouchers went quickly on smoked salmon omelettes  ($14 each), coffee and snacks for the next flight. The airport wins points for free and fast Wi-Fi, clean restrooms, and lots of plug-in outlets for electronic devices. On the downside, there's just one area with lounge chairs, and gate areas tend get crowded in the late afternoon.

Upon returning home to Seattle, I filled out the claim form, a surprisingly simple task that asked only for flight booking numbers, ticket numbers, flight numbers and dates of travel. I was assigned a case number, and received an e-mail telling me it might take a few weeks for resolution. 

Two weeks later, I received the following e-mail from Icelandair:

"We apologise that your case has not yet progressed.For the past weeks we have experienced a heavy workload but we want to inform you that we have received your case, and we are trying our best to process your inquiry. We thank you for your patience and understanding."

I'll keep you posted.

Aug 29, 2023

Taking a fresh look at exploring Washington's Yakima Valley

Views of the Yakima Valley from Gilbert Cellars winery

For Seattleites who haven't crossed the Cascade mountains into Central Washington in a while, a trip to the Yakima Valley might bring to mind acres of apple orchards, fruit-packing warehouses and juice processing plants surrounded by brown hills and sage brush.

The fruit industry is still alive - Washington continues to produce more apples than anywhere else in the U.S. thanks for an average 300 days of sun, a desert climate and irrigation -but, like everywhere, the economy is shifting. The valley grows half the state's wine grapes, and 75 percent of the nation's hops.

Due in part to creative young entrepreneurs returning to their roots, visitors will find wineries with tasting rooms overlooking lush vineyards, breweries and cideries; art galleries in warehouses once used for cold fruit storage; and restaurants serving everything from noodles and dim sum to Salvadorian pupusas.   

I made a three-day visit to the area a few weeks ago, the first in many years. I could have done without a couple of 100-degree-plus afternoons, but not only was I surprised at what I found, I left determined to come back, perhaps in fall or spring when the temperatures drop.

Here are some suggestions on what to explore: 

Downtown Yakima

Hotel Maison

Yakima is one of the oldest communities in Washington, and many of historic buildings in the walkable downtown have been repurposed as tap rooms, tasting rooms, cafes and restaurants.

Our group stayed in the Hotel Maison, former Masonic Temple built in 1911, now a boutique hotel with 36 guest rooms.

A few blocks away is the old Northern Pacific train depot, a major transportation hub in the early 1900s, now the North Town Coffee House, a cozy cafe with vintage decor, and near the site of Downtown Summer Nights, a Thursday night festival with food and craft vendors and live music. 

Other buildings and craftsman-style homes house restaurants and coffee shops. Locals like Mak Daddy, a roaster that keeps a guitar next to the fireplace, and  serves avocado toast topped with roasted tomatoes, feta and balsamic vinegar. 

Single Hill beer garden

Sitting vacant is a  sprawling former shopping mall awaiting someone with the money and vision to convert to another use. Meantime, Single Hill Brewing Co. occupies the former J.C. Penny tire center across the street. Its 16 taps dispense light beers, tart and fruity sours and IPAs brewed with local hops. A large outdoor beer garden faces a 1900s-era church turned into an arts center.

Outdoor adventures

Rafting along the Yakima River

A dry and rugged outdoor landscape defines the valley. Stop for lunch at the Canyon River Ranch in nearby Ellensburg, then float down the Yakima River canyon on a raft equipped with shade canopies, bench seats and a table for drinks and snacks. 

The resort works with guides from Red's Fly Shop to offer two-hour eco cruises ($95 per seat) along the Yakima River as it winds through rolling desert hills and basalt cliffs, some rising more than 2,000 feet. The canyon's crevices and cliffs are home for the densest concentration of nesting hawks, eagles, and falcons in the state. 

Horseback riders model for a photo shoot along the Cowiche Canyon trail

Walkers and hikers can get a feel for the landscape by taking the easy and flat Cowiche Canyon Conservancy Trail, a one-time railroad line that criss-crosses nine old trestle bridges over Cowiche Creek as it flows through a canyon with basalt walls on one side and andesite on the other. Notice the red and black rock formations as you walk on the gravel-packed main path, or follow one of the side trails that lead to views of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams or the tasting room at Wilridge vineyard and winery on the north bluff.   

Drinking and eating

Tacos and tamales are what you might expect to find in an area with a large Latino population -about 50 percent in Yakima County compared to around 13 percent in Washington state. 

Get your fix of traditional fare by following the Yakima Valley Taco and Tamale trail, a list of 26 stops, then branch out and explore a new culinary scene aimed at tourists, Western Washington retirees who have relocated, and young professionals returning to their hometowns to work remotely. 

Chefs and foodies from around the world make pilgrimages to Los Hernandez Tamales in Union Gap which won a James Beard culinary award a few years ago.  

The four-table restaurant in Union Gap

Owner Felipe Hernandez

The Hernandez family turns out Texas-style tamales by the hundreds daily in a nearby commercial kitchen, but little has changed at the brick-and-mortar restaurant they opened 33 years ago. There are still only four tables and four types of tamales for sale (pork, chicken, cactus and asparagus when in season) for $2.33 each.

Kennedy Wilson-Avalos, manager at E.Z. Tiger, displays a Punch Buggy cocktail

Going in the opposite direction is E.Z. Tiger, a sleek and spacious dim sum and noodle restaurant in downtown Yakima. The all-female staff turns out Pacific Rim-inspired dishes such as Beijing dumplings and  green papaya salad. Signature cocktails include the Punch Buggy, a rum and lime juice concoction made with jalapeño simple syrup and tamarind paste from Thailand, then rimmed with ground grasshoppers imported from Mexico. 

Crafted in downtown Yakima

Crowded even on weeknights is Crafted, "considered Yakima's finest restaurant," according to a discerning friend who lives there. Opened by Dan and Mollie Koommoo in 2016, the downtown restaurant focuses on shareable dishes with ingredients gathered from within a 100-mile radius. Menus change frequently, sometimes daily. The vegetarian in our group didn't find many choices the night we visited, although a sample menu online lists many. The standout desert for me was the black sesame ice cream, an Asian treat rarely found on Western menus.

Freehand Cellars tasting room

Among many wineries with tasting rooms, Freehand Cellars might do the best for atmosphere and food to go with a glass of wine. Perched on a hillside overlooking the vineyards, the spacious tasting room has comfortable seating that invites lingering. On the menu is pear or peach caprese, a flatbread pizza and seared shrimp. 

More rustic is the farmhouse-style tasting room at Two Mountain Winery in Zillah. Matthew and Patrick Rawn, Fourth-generation family members began, converting 26 acres of Golden Delicious apples to vineyards in 2000. That grew to 150 acres across eight estate vineyard sites, certified green and sustainable. 

There's no food, but the winery encourages visitors to bring a picnic and relax on the grounds. The $10 tasting fee here is a bargain. Guaranteed you'll go home with a four- pack of Rosé , an idea the owners came up with one day while drinking Miller High Life out of clear glass bottles. 

Picnic packs of Two Mountain Rosé 

Beer lovers have lots of tap rooms and breweries from which to choose. One of the newest is Outskirts Brewing Co. in Selah. The young owners opened a few months ago after transforming a former horse barn and farm into a brewery and restaurant. There's live music on Way Our Wednesdays, a large outdoor patio and a bison burger on the menu. Kids welcome.

Local groups play Wednesdays at Outskirts Brewing

Thirty miles from downtown Yakima, the tiny town of Tieton is worth seeking out for its art galleries, mosaic factory and a cabinet maker housed in repurposed fruit packing warehouses.

Tieton artists are crafting mosaic tiles for the new Redmond light rail station

Tieton's main drag

Seattle art book publisher Ed Marquand and a partner bought nine buildings at auction in 2005 after the collapse of the red delicious apple business with the idea of connecting creative entrepreneurs with local resources. The goal was to improve the local economy, generate jobs and experiment with adaptive reuse architecture to revitalize old buildings.

Most of the vacant storefronts are now filled, with traditional businesses such as a Mexican bakery and Don Mateo Mexican-Salvadorian restaurant, sharing the downtown with an espresso cafe and a maker of handmade art books.

Recently opened is Nomad Kitchen, a farm-to-table restaurant with communal dining in the same location as Nomad Mercantile, a shop selling outdoor adventure gear, wine, cheese and locall-made goods.

If you go:

The Yakima Valley is 140 east of Seattle. Order or download a Yakima Valley Travel Guide from Visit Yakima

Aug 4, 2023

E-biking on Seattle's hilly Vashon Island is a Passport2Pleasure


Bikers relaxing at Dragon's Head Cider

As late summer fades into fall, the bounty of Vashon Island awaits 20 minutes by ferry from Seattle.

Boutique wineries and cideries are uncorking their latest vintages. Roadside farm stands brim with fruit and produce. Beaches, forested trails, cafes and galleries invite lingering on weekend afternoons. 

Just 13 miles long and eight miles across, Vashon would seem easy enough to explore by bike. But as serious road cyclers know, there's a reason organizers call an annual September ride  "Passport2Pain."

"It's rolling hills," says Erin Kieper, owner of Vashon Adventures which rents bikes on the island.

 "If you go down to the water, you have to come back up, and if you're not an avid cyclist, it can be daunting."

 Enter the electric bike or e-bike, a solution for those looking for a leisurely ride focused more on discovering Vashon's bohemian and artistic side rather than on a rigorous workout. 

 "They're a great equalizer for people who haven't been on bikes in a while, or hate hills, or who come with avid cyclists and just want to keep up," says Kieper. "E-bikes have gained in acceptance, and they've gained in popularity." 

Go five miles or 25. Think of touring Vashon on an e-bike as a Passport2Pleasure. 

Plan your route  

Breakfast at the Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe was our first destination as my husband, Tom, and I arrived on the island on a recent Saturday.

Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe

As most cyclists know, the challenges begin with the five-mile, 500- vertical foot ascent to town from the ferry dock.

Following a tip from other cyclists, we detoured away from busy Vashon Highway onto a tree-shaded backroad, rejoining the highway at the point where the shoulder widened, and ferry traffic had cleared. 

Our bikes, like the ones Vashon Adventures rents, are peddle-assist, meaning a battery powers three levels of assistance - eco, standard and turbo - requiring the rider to peddle at all times, with the option of using a gear shift, turning the battery off and peddling normally.

Keeping in mind our battery "budget" for the day - around 25 miles - we used turbo assist on the initial uphill stretch, then turned the battery off, and peddled normally as the road flattened out.

Bikers looking for a short ride need not go further than Vashon's compact downtown area to find plenty to explore. Locals love the Snapdragon for its plate-sized pastries and garden seating.

Saturday farmers market

A block north is the Saturday farmers market, the place to pick up fresh cherries and pepperoni sticks for a mid-ride picnic. Nearby are antique and thrift shops, art galleries and the Mukai Farm & Garden, a historic heritage home and Japanese garden open to the public for self-guided tours.

With a few destinations in mind that required a longer ride, we headed away from town, stopping first at Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie before detouring on backroads where there are no shoulders, but also little traffic.

The Coffee Roasterie is part museum, part cafe

Part coffee museum, cafe, country store, book store and herb, tea and spice purveyor, the roasterie is housed in a historic building, once the headquarters of Seattle's Best Coffee. We cooled off with chilled glasses of Wild Tonic blueberry-basil juice on the front porch, and bought a bag of roasted pistachios for later.  

The ride from here south to Quartermaster Marina on Vashon's east shore was our longest downhill descent. Our destination was Lavender Hill Farm, now closed for the season. 

Cattle and horse farms along Vashon's backroads

With so much downhill riding, we worried a bit that we might not have enough battery charge to make it back. Consulting our GPS, we rerouted for a more gradual climb, skipping a couple of stops that would have required more "turbo" power. 

Le Stockage farm stand

Serendipity rewarded us with a scenic ride past horse farms and cattle ranches. Using a map showing the location of farm stands around the island, we found miniature Italian pears at Peach Tree Hill farm. Another stand called "Le Stockage" stocked produce, cold drinks and snacks in a truck decorated with flowers and a wooden bench.

Back in town, with battery power to spare, we followed a sign next to a mannequin dressed as a butterfly. It pointed the way to the Outstanding in its Field Gallery  where owner Lindsay Hart  welcomes visitors with homemade lemon squares and coconut macaroons. 

A dozen artists display their works in her garden and in a repurposed shipping container. The theme changes monthly as does the mannequin's costume. For August, Hart dressed it like a cat to celebrate the "Dog and Cat Days of Summer." 

Two cideries and several wineries offer weekend tastings. All are worth a visit, but keeping in mind that we were on bikes, we picked just one - Dragon's Head -  where the owners have planted English and French cider apples on 30 acres of former strawberry fields

We ended our day relaxing at a picnic table with a glass of Airlie red, a semi-dry cider with a 6.9 percent alcohol content. But even if you don't drink, there's another reason to detour here.

Indicator Species

Overlooking the orchards is "Indicator Species", a silvery, 35 foot tall kinetic sculpture of a Plecoptera nymph, commonly known as a stonefly, sculpted by Ela Lamblin, CQ as a gathering point for communal celebrations.


If you go:

Weekends are the best times to visit Vashon when most things are open. Get there via a 20-minute ferry ride from West Seattle aboard the Washington State Fauntleroy/Vashon ferry. King County runs a walk-on water taxi from Seattle's Pier 50 on weekdays. 

The Vashon Island Farmers Market runs Saturdays through October 15 from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. 

For map and description of farm stands throughout the island see Most accept Venmo or cash. 

A version of this story appeared in The Seattle Times on August 4, 2023