Budget Travel Masthead

April 27, 2007
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Casting With a Fragile Thread

When I was very young, my mother would invite people over to our small house in Mount Pleasant for a casual braai, a barbecue, and then open the front door wearing a midnight-blue velvet dress with her dark hair scooped up into a rhinestone tiara. The dress had hung in the bathroom beforehand amid billowing clouds of steam from the shower turned on full: a nipped and sensuous skirt supported by a boned and strapless bodice, assertive ghostly breasts looming over me as I peed. She really wanted to be a ballerina. She had an old vinyl record of Swan Lake, with a picture of pink ballet slippers on its worn soft cover, that she played regularly. "Come," she panted, pulling at me when the opening bars of the "Dance of the Cygnets" rattled our glass doors. I'd glance down quickly to avoid her funny thumb (they'd had to chop a bit off it when she got a rose thorn stuck under her nail) and join her in those funny cygnet steps, and fall about laughing or beg her to "twist again," and we would pretend to dry ourselves with towels. But after a short while she would always put Swan Lake back on, loud and tinny, and eventually I'd wander off, bored. She wasn't like the other mothers I knew. She poked a python out of our hedge with a broom. She yelled "Jump!" when the swing was at its highest, bit into onions like apples, and tried to convince me that it was always better to have flowers than food. Before Christmas we peeked, whispering, mischievous, conspiratorial, at my new dollhouse through the keyhole of the garage. Once we ate sweets together until I threw up. She didn't care whether Sharon wore clothes and was happy to cut up her own satin wedding dress to make gowns for my dolls--she sewing and chatting, me chewing the wax flowers of her bridal headpiece flat and spitting them out in a neat gray pile on her bed. One day in the car, I whimsically mentioned I wanted to ride the grimy African bus ahead of us, and she promptly waved it down, bossily ignoring the snarled traffic and the astonished face of the black driver, pushing me, a five-year-old white child, through the soft black flesh and colorful bundles of alarmed passengers, hollering at my back to look out for her through the rear window. The bus stank of sweat and diesel. Yet hotter air pumped through its dirty windows as the bus pulled into traffic and I made a circle in the grimy glass and saw my mother there, waving to me encouragingly from our pale blue Cortina. She followed me in her car through the clean white suburbs of Avondale and Milton Park, where the houses had lawns and swimming pools and tennis courts and the bus jolted and roared, stopping and starting, flesh and bundles shifting and resettling, stirring sweat, as people heaved on and off at neat and efficient shopping centers. Downtown, we turned onto First Street, where there were banks and teashops, offices and department stores, and white people strolled the recently swept pavements. First Street ended in the Cow's Guts, the dirtier Indian part of town. Here, storekeepers set up stalls outside their small shops or strung bright merchandise from awnings and noisily hawked their wares to African women, who hunted through their own expansive cleavages for carefully hidden cash. Beyond the Cow's Guts, the bus depot was on the lip of the Industrial Sites--a frantic fume-thick place, where a baffling number of blacks milled and yelled, deciphering schedules or selling single cigarettes and oranges. The bus I was on disgorged me there, and I flowed out onto the filthy sidewalk, where I was assaulted by dust and the odor of burning rubber and rotting fruit. Then my mother appeared, smilingly pushing her way through jostling crowds, laughing at my bewilderment, scooping me up against the starched cotton of her dress and the wires in her undergarments, the soft skin of her strong arms folded across my back, her body smelling salty and sweet, like home. My father was proud of Rhodesia's unilateral Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1965. He drank to UDI at our braais and tennis parties where, after a few beers, he would often say, "Wendy, tell us about UDI," and on cue I would sing out, "Rhodesia has sanctions, and I can't have Marmite on my toast!" Then he would chortle with delight, grabbing and touslig my hair while the other grown-ups laughed. I had no idea what sanctions or UDI really meant. In 1966, a year after the declaration, I was equally oblivious to the incident in which Rhodesian Security Forces killed seven black guerillas, marking the beginning of the Rhodesian War. That same year my mother brought Lauren home in her yellow carry-cot from the Lady Chancellor maternity hospital in Salisbury, where it was rumored they used placentas to fertilze the extravagant roses on their grounds. About then the threads that held our lives together slowly began to fray. Reprinted from Casting With a Fragile Thread: A Story of Sisters and Africa. Copyright (c) 2006 by Wendy Kann. All rights reserved.

Trip Coach: April 24, 2007

Sally Farhat Kassab: Hello, this is Sally Farhat Kassab. I'm a Seattle native and am thrilled to answer questions about the Emerald City, as well as that other gorgeous mecca two hours north, Vancouver. Thanks so much for joining me. Let's begin! _______________________ Davenport, Iowa: Four 50 year old post college girlfriends are traveling to Vancouver this summer. We like all sorts of things. But we especially like saving money on accomodations. We would rather spend our cash on activities. Any suggestions? Sally Farhat Kassab: Ladies, stay at the Y! The YWCA Hotel is not some dreary rooming house; it's a comfortable downtown hotel, close to the theaters, sports arenas and library. The no-frills rooms, while tiny, are functional, with minifridges and sinks. Some bathrooms are shared, and there are few amenities (no tissues, clocks, coffee makers). Another bonus? You get free passes to the Y's fitness center if you stay there. ( Other inexpensive spots I like are the Sylvia Hotel ( and the Victorian Hotel ( You'll have plenty of money leftover to shop and play. _______________________ Southborough, MA: I'm planning to visit my daughter, who lives in Seattle,August 30 - Sept 4. What would you suggest for a two or three day excursion to the San Juan Islands? We will be leaving from Seattle and would be able to drive to the appropriate port and board a ferry to the islands, if that is the best way to travel. Which islands would you recommend we visit, and where would you recommend we stay (no camping, please)? We would enjoy hiking, but nothing advanced. Sally Farhat Kassab: I'm thrilled that you're headed to the San Juans. They are one of the gems of our region, and absolutely stunning in summer. That's when rates are highest and it's hardest to find a reservation; book now if you can. Most Seattleites drive about an hour and a half north to Anacortes, then take the ferry to one of the four islands they go to. But beware: because of the islands' popularity, getting your car onto the ferry can mean a three-hour wait. (I always recommend people travel to the San Juans in the off-season, especially since they get half the rainfall of Seattle!) If you can afford it, take Kenmore Air (, a floatplane to the islands from two Seattle-area locations. The Victoria Clipper (, best known for its insanely fast trips to Victoria on Vancouver Island, also travels daily from Seattle to San Juan Island. It's funny you mention camping and hiking, because the islands are famous for anything outdoorsy. Some of my friends take their bicycles to Lopez Island and just ride around all day, then return home to Seattle. But back to your question: On day one, get an early-morning (trust me!) ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor. Stay at Olympic Lights B & B ( with its gorgeous gardens, or go all out at Roche Harbor Resort (; Teddy Roosevelt once stayed there. The next day, take an afternoon ferry to Orcas Island (it's free since you're going east). The only "budget" place I'd recommend here is the Doe Bay Resort & Retreat ( But I'd head to the Rosario Resort & Spa, where I went every year as a kid ( If you don't stay there, at least visit. If you're not a resort person, try the lovely Inn on Orcas Island ( Make sure and eat at Christina's, a true destination restaurant ( Mount Constitution in Moran State Park is a great place for hiking. On day three, get an afternoon ferry to Lopez Island and check in at the Mackaye Harbor Inn ( To save money, stay at one of the cottages at Lopez Farm Cottages. Lopez is the quietest of the three islands I'm recommending, and people will wave at you when you drive by. That's the type of place it is. While you're "downtown" in Lopez Village, you must stop at Holly B's Bakery -- her cinnamon rolls are addictive. _______________________ Los Angeles, CA: My husband (wheelchair bound), son (7 years old) and I will be traveling to Seattle the last week of June and have a few days before our Alaska cruise. I'm going to be making a hotel reservation and want to stay in a hotel where we can walk/roll and see some sites. What area of town would you suggest we stay? Sally Farhat Kassab: If you stay in the downtown core, you'll be near all the sites. Parts of downtown have steep hills, so you will most likely use the bus system to get around. The most buses travel along Third Avenue, and you don't have to pay if you're in a certain downtown area (the drivers announce once you're about to leave the "Ride Free Zone.)" The new Hotel 1000 ( is one of my favorites; it's high-tech, sophisticated and Hollywood celebs stay there. I also like the Edgewater (, which sits over the water (It's famous because the Beatles once slept there, and guests used to fish from its windows). For something still nice, but at a lower cost (and next to two large malls), check out the Mayflower Park Hotel ( The best budget hotels downtown are the Panama Hotel in the International District and the Ace Hotel in Belltown. Neither of these are in the core, but that's partially why you'll save money. (And in some cases, have to share a bathroom.) _______________________ Lexington, NC: We and another couple are taking a cruise to Hawaii leaving from Vancouver on September 12. We are flying to Vancouver on Sunday, September 9 to spend some time there prior to our cruise. What are some "must sees" in the area? Also, do you have suggestions for a hotel? We plan to rent a car. There is only 4 of us, but we will have a lot of luggage for a 2 week cruise. So, we're unsure what kind of vehicle we need to rent. I've been told that some rental car companies have drop-offs at the cruise ship terminals. Do you know which ones? Thank you! Sally Farhat Kassab: I rarely drive when I'm in Vancouver -- it's so easy to get around on public transportation, and parking at hotels is expensive. My favorite, ultra-romantic, pricey place to stay is The Sutton Place Hotel ( For lower-cost hotels, I recommend the Sylvia Hotel (its location opposite English Bay Beach is ideal) and the Victorian Hotel (though half its rooms have shared baths.) At the latter, get rooms 205, 206 or 207 if you can; they have slight mountain views and are furnished better ( or As for must-sees, here's a sample three-day tour. Start your day at the Granville Island Public Market, which opens at 9 a.m. After exploring the shops, studios, and galleries, hop on the SeaBus for a seaside lunch at sophisticated seafooder C Restaurant (yes, just the letter C), or the eclectic contemporary Nu. For a cheaper option, try Go Fish, a popular fish-and-chips place. (There are very few tables, so you might have to take your meal to go.) Stop in Chinatown for a guided tour through the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden before walking around the area. Then walk along the Stanley Park Seawall or English Bay Beach before heading to dinner at Mona's, Chambar, or Rare, some of my favorite restaurants. If you're looking for an inexpensive option, try Kitanoyu Guu, a casual Japanese pub serving small plates that are all the rage in Vancouver. On day two, head to the University of British Columbia and the Museum of Anthropology and the UBC Botanical Garden. At lunch, stop for Malaysian food at Banana Leaf or Chinese fare at Golden Szechuan. Then stroll one of my all-time favorite streets -- Robson Street, a trendy boulevard of boutiques and fancy eateries. If you'd like to take in a show, see what's available at the half-price booth at Tickets Tonight; afterward, try Bin 941 Tapas Parlour, Bishop's or Cru. On the third day, take in the views at Queen Elizabeth Park, the highest point in Vancouver proper. Spend a couple hours at the Vancouver Art Gallery or hike in West Vancouver's Lighthouse Park. Then go to Yaletown, a fun neighborhood, and try Rodney's Oyster House or sushi at the Blue Water Caf? before browsing the upscale stores. For a four-star meal, eat at Lumiere or West. If you want more shopping, check out Pacific Centre (downtown's biggest mall), Sinclair Centre (full of upscale boutiques) and the Gastown neighborhood, especially the 300 block of West Cordova Street, where local designers sell their frocks. _______________________ Carlsbad, California: Is there a website that gives information about public transportation in Seattle? Sally Farhat Kassab: Seattle has no subway system to speak of, but the bus system is *excellent.* Its Web site is and my favorite feature is "trip planner," which has never led me astray. _______________________ San Diego, CA: I will be in Vancouver with my 14 year old niece for 2 days at the end of an Alaskan cruise. Any recommendations for activities that my niece will enjoy? I'd like to take her to Stanley Park -- will I need to rent a car, or is there adequate public transportation? We will be on a relatively tight budget after the cruise, so any advice is appreciated. Linda - San Diego, CA Sally Farhat Kassab: Hi, Linda! My answer to the question from the person from Lexington should help. But for your niece specifically, I think she'll love Robson Street since it has some cute shops that cater to girls her age. Since you won't be in major shopping mode, I recommend the Storyeum ( in Gastown. It's a sort of Disney-esque museum/theater. If you don't want to spend a dime, you're right to head to Stanley Park. I have spent days there. It's 1,000 acres, is within walking distance of downtown, has beaches, totem poles, restaurants and an aquarium. Take your swimsuits! _______________________ Atlanta, GA: My 22 yr old daughter and I will be in Seattle for only 2 days in June. We love to explore and get to know a city and it's people. We also enjoy walking. What would you suggest to get the most out of our two days? Sally Farhat Kassab: I'm glad you enjoy walking, because Seattle was made for it (if you don't mind some steep hills). Since you'll only be there for two days, you won't get to the outlying neighborhoods, which really make up the heart of what Seattle is. But don't fret: you'll see quite a bit. My reply to the mom from Los Angeles will give you hotel options; a 22-year-old would *love* the hip Belltown neighborhood lined with upscale pubs, restaurants and nightclubs (as well as multi-million dollar condos). Staying at the Ace will put you in the center of the action. Walk down to the Pike Place Market, and enjoy. It's the first place I take friends when they visit Seattle. Afterward, walk down to the waterfront and eat *outside* at Ivar's on Pier 54. (Seagulls often fly right up to your table). Take an Argosy Cruise from Pier 56, then grab dinner at Dahlia Lounge, Flying Fish or Wild Ginger. All are sure to have a scene, as well as great food. At night, grab a drink anywhere along First Avenue; let your daughter choose. If she likes live music (this is Seattle, after all) don't miss the Crocodile Caf?. On your second day, head to the Space Needle first thing in the morning (the lines get insanely long in June; if you don't have patience, head to the top of the Bank of America tower instead.) The Space Needle is in the Seattle Center, home to all sorts of festivals in the summer. (There happen to be a few cultural ones in June: If you're feeling outdoorsy, rent a kayak and paddle around in Lake Union. For shopping, head to Belltown for boutiques, or the two malls called Westlake Mall and Pacific Place. One transportation tip: Take the Monorail (, a really short, one-mile-long sky subway, from the top of Westlake Mall to Seattle Center. It's quicker than the bus, and kind of fun. Catch whoever is playing at The Triple Door, a theater/restaurant all-in-one. It's a great experience. _______________________ New York NY: We are looking for nice Lodges outside Seattle and Vancouver in $100-150 range or less for early July... Sally Farhat Kassab: North of Seattle, try the Silver Cloud Inn in Mukilteo (all rooms have great views). If you can splurge for a night, try the Salish Lodge & Spa in Snoqualmie, half an hour east of Seattle. But back to $100 to $150 -- the Inn at Port Gardner in Everett is also a good choice. In North Vancouver, there's a cool B & B that starts at $150 Canadian a night called the Thistledown House. You didn't say how far out from Vancouver you were looking: A lovely area more than an hour east of Vancouver is Harrison Lake. There, you can try Fenn Lodge Bed & Breakfast Retreat, a 1903 late-Victorian house with a heated spring-fed swimming pool, a meditation maze, and a playground ( _______________________ San Diego, CA: With three days in the Seattle area, why are the "must do" activities. How much time should be alloted to Olympia National Park if one is not a hiker? Is this the best time of year to see the whales on a day trip? What about the Columbia River Gorge -- is that a doable day trip from Seattle? Sally Farhat Kassab: Hello! With just three days, I recommend that you either just stay in Seattle or spend the entire time away. If you're staying in Seattle, please see my answer to the woman from Atlanta. If you want to head to Olympic National Park, it's a beautiful day trip. The Columbia River Gorge is at least a three hour drive, so I recommend staying overnight. The best places to see whales are on the San Juan Islands, which are definitely not a day trip -- plan to spend at least a night there. From May through October, you'll see Minke and Orca whales. You have a tough choice to make -- they're all memorable options! _______________________ Mears, Michigan: What is the best way to visit Victoria from Seattle in a single day? By ferry without a car? By ferry with a car? Some other way? We leave for Seattle in 10 days. Four senior citizens. Sally Farhat Kassab: Hello! The best way is via the Victoria Clipper at Seattle's Pier 69. The high-speed catamaran ferry doesn't take cars (you won't need one) and it's by far the fastest and most popular. If you get seasick easily, you might want to take along medication: the 2.5-hour trip can get a bit rough. _______________________ Miami, FL: Two friends and I are going on a Cruise to Alaska on August 5 to 12, on Celebrity Cruise Lines. I am an immigration attorney and I am attending a conference on the Cruise. I am going with two friends ages 36 and 54 (mother and daughter). We want to visit Seattle for two or three days before or after the Cruise and want to find a hotel to stay at in Seattle, and the best method of transportation to Vancouver and back. If there is a train with sightseeing will be ideal. What are some things to do? My friends love to shop, eat well, and we have never been to that part of the United States. We are all originally from Venezuela. Please let me know your recommendations or where I can find reliable information to book my trip. Thank you in advance for your time and attention. Sincerely, Maria Sally Farhat Kassab: Maria, I think I am in the wrong profession! I want a conference on a cruise ship! Before or after your cruise, I recommend Amtrak. It's the best way to get to and from Vancouver via public transportation. In addition to the two-day tour I outlined for the woman from Atlanta, here's a third day sample itinerary: Grab a French pastry at Le Panier in the market, then head to Pioneer Square for an Underground Tour. Browse the collections at the Elliot Bay Book Company. Walk to the International District (sometimes called Chinatown) and visit Uwajimaya Village to eat rice bowls and sushi rolls. Head to Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill where you can visit a museum or climb the park's water tower, offering sweeping views. I'm glad you asked about eating! Seattle has some excellent restaurants -- a new Italian one just opened called Beato Food & Wine in West Seattle. If you want ultra-fancy (with a price to match), with an amazing view, head to Canlis. Harvest Vine is great for tapas. (But it can take forever to get a table). Lampreia has a near-cultish following. But most of those aren't in the downtown core. (Take a cab! It's worth it! ) If you want to stay downtown, shop to your heart's content in the Belltown neighborhood. But don't miss the upscale stores in Rainier Square - yes, Seattle has a Louis Vuitton boutique. _______________________ Alameda, CA: My partner and I (ages 44 and 52) are boarding the Golden Princess in San Francisco and taking a 2 day cruise to Vancouver. We leave Wednesday, May 2nd, arrive in Vancouver Friday morning May 4th. We will have Friday and Saturday in Vancouver and then Sunday, May 6th we take Amtrak back to Oakland, CA. With only 2 days in Vancouver and no car, what are the "must see/do" items? We already have dinner reservations for Friday night at the Cloud 9 revolving restaurant as we are staying at the Landmark hotel. Thank you. Sally Farhat Kassab: Hello! For great must-sees in Vancouver, please see my answer to the Lexington question above. The only thing I'll add are details about the city's public transit. Translink ( runs buses that travel throughout the metropolitan area; the SkyTrain operates between downtown, the East Side, and the city's eastern suburbs; and the SeaBus crosses the harbor between downtown and North Vancouver. You'll have a great time exploring Vancouver! _______________________ Washington, DC: I'll be in Seattle in June and I am really excited about the trip. Its for business but I plan to get in some siteseeing. Is the best way to get around by car, or can I use bikes/public trans. to see the sites (and hit the restaurants). Thank you! Sally Farhat Kassab: I am glad you're excited! My hometown is lovely. If you want to just see the main sights, you really don't need a car. But if you want to get out and see the neighborhoods, each with their distinct personality, then get a car! It depends what you like. Ballard, Fremont and West Seattle are all must-see neighborhoods, in my opinion. If you just want to see the downtown Seattle sights and West Seattle, take the Water Taxi ( a 12-minute ride from Seattle's waterfront to West Seattle. Head to Alki Beach for the closest thing Seattle has to South Beach. During the summer, I spend as much time as possible there. Seattle is incredibly bicycle-friendly, by the way, so that's also a good option. _______________________ Hinesburg, VT: We are traveling to Vancouver on Sat. June 2nd. We will arrive in the evening and spend the night before boarding our cruise ship the next afternoon. What can we do that evening and the next morning? There are six of us and two are 14 and 11. Any ideas? I wish we had time to go over to Victoria to see the gardens. Anything like it in Vancouver? We'd like something we could walk to from our downtown hotel. Nancy Sally Farhat Kassab: Hello! The answers to the other questions on Vancouver should help. And don't worry--as I mentioned earlier, there *is* a garden in the city: The University of British Columbia Botanical Garden. You'll love it. _______________________ Seattle, WA, Victoria, Tolfino & Vancouver, BC: Hi We are a family consisting of 2 adults and a just-turned 3 year old. We are planning a trip a trip to Victoria, BC and then Victoria Clipper to Seattle, WA on May 18. We would like to attend the Udistrict street festival and the Seattle Children's Fest that weekend. I currently have 3 night booked at either the Ace hotel and the University Inn. Which is best for us? Are there any attractions that you would recommend? Also, I would love to do 1/2 day of outlet shopping and eat at Pike Pl Mkt. I think the University Inn has free shuttles. Is 3 night too short? Then we will ferry it back to Victoria and possibly drive to Tolfino for a day or 2. Next, I was hoping to drive to Nanaimo to ferry it to Vancouver where we will spend 1-2 nights. I would like to check out Vancouver on Sat. We have a flight back home to Toronto from Victoria, BC on May 28. Thanks Michelle Sally Farhat Kassab: Hi, Michelle! Travelling with a toddler is fun, isn't it? I'm thrilled you're staying in the University District. Readers dead-set on staying downtown, or who only have a few days and want to stay near their cruises, should stay downtown. But otherwise, staying in a neighborhood like the U-District (as we call it) is the best budget option. I went to school at the University of Washington and have fond memories of the area. The best hotel there is Hotel Deca ( It's in the same price range as the University Inn, but is much nicer (all my out-of-town guests stayed there for my recent wedding). Your toddler will *love* those two festivals! Good choices. Three nights is perfect; you're seeing quite a bit in 10 days. For Seattle attractions, please see my answer above. As you probably know, Seattle doesn't have any outlet shopping; you'll drive 40 miles north to the Tulalip Tribes' Quil Ceda Village for that, which is perfect because it's on your way to Vancouver. Check out for some great tips. _______________________ Huntington Beach, CA: We will be in Vancouver May 31 thru June 2 traveling from Southern California via motorcycle. Are there special events or attractions we should be sure to catch during our three days there? Also, from Seattle how early should we plan to go thru the border crossing? Sally Farhat Kassab: Hello! I'm so glad you asked about the border crossing. During the warmer months, it can take forever. Get there as early as possible, and be prepared to inch along. (The upside is that you're in a beautiful park filled with gardens and sculptures, bordering on two bays.) The Vancouver Tourist Info Centre ( and Ticketmaster ( are great for finding out about events. You'll miss two famous ones: the Vancouver International Jazz Festival starts June 22 (sorry!), and the annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival is each July. Starting on May 31, various Shakespeare plays will be performed in tents on the beach overlooking English Bay. See June is Portugese Heritage Month, with all sorts of related events: _______________________ NYC: I like to explore as a single traveler (female). What hotels are single freindly, and can you comment overall about single travel to, sites, nightlife, shopping. Looking to travel 6/28 for 10 days. I don't know if I want to spend that many days in Seattle...What are your thoughts please? Sally Farhat Kassab: Way to represent the single people today! I only got married a few months ago -- and used to live in NYC -- so I can totally relate. Overall, you couldn't have picked a better city. Seattle is one of those places where people will see you, a young beautiful female, and ask if they can help you. You'll hear "Are you alone?" all the time. So, yes, hang out in Seattle the entire 10 days--you'll really get a feel for all the neighborhoods and have more time to spend with the people you meet. I am going to answer your question here, but another good person to ask is Seattle singles expert Diane Mapes. She's author of How to Date in a Post-Dating World ( If you want to meet people, Space City Mixer ( has tons of group events in fun places. They are incredibly popular, so sign up now for future parties. You didn't say how old you are, so let me just pick the places I'd go if I were you :-) Hotels: The W, downtown Seattle. The bar there is a singles mecca. There's also a fun little hotel called The Inn at El Gaucho in Belltown that I really like. It's a mecca for young, male business travelers. Head to the basement of El Gaucho and you'll see quite a scene. Another fun (and cheaper!) option is to mix it up -- stay in a B & B a few days. In the Capital Hill neighborhood, there's one called the 11th Avenue Inn owned by a 30-something guy. For something even more simple, rooms at the Capitol Hill Guest House can be rented by the week. It's like staying at a friend's house. Sites: You are arriving in Seattle during Seafair, a huge and fun festival that's famous for its hydroplane races at the end of the summer. Wonderful! I checked the calendar: On the days you're in town, check out either the wooden boat festival or the milk carton derby ( You'll also be in the city for the Fourth of July -- my favorite spot to watch is from Gas Works Park ( On other days, all of the sites I mentioned in this chat are great; since you're single, hang out in two places in particular: downtown Kirkland and Belltown. (In Kirkland, the waterfront is full of singles just hanging out, and the shops are great). Check out the Third Floor Fish Café (older singles sometimes hang out in the bar; the seafood and views are great) or Wilde Rover Irish Pub & Restaurant (for a younger crowd) while you're there. My favorite thing to do is to take a picnic lunch and sit along the lake there. (*Great* people-watching!) Go to Alki Beach in West Seattle for the Seattle version of Miami's South Beach. Nightlife: Kirkland, Belltown, and Queen Anne neighborhoods for an older crowd; Pioneer Square for a twenty-something (or younger!) group. Famous singles places are the Paragon and Tini Bigs in Queen Anne (nice bars); the Century Ballroom for salsa dancing; the Crocodile Café and Tost for live music. Tost is in Fremont, another cute neighborhood that's becoming home to more young professionals. Shopping: Since you'll have time, besides all the other shopping areas I've mentioned today, check out all the new shops in Bellevue. Besides the popular, huge mall Bellevue Square, there's a new, also huge Lincoln Square. My favorite spot there is the The Parlor, a very upscale pool hall, home to every single man in Bellevue. Have fun! _______________________ Bradenton, FL: We are traveling to Seattle on May 2, 2007 for two weeks. We are spending two days in Seattle and then driving to Blaine, WA for a week at a timeshare. We will have five days after we leave the timeshare to explore Washington and Oregon. Please give us suggestions for the Vancouver area and where to travel when we come back down. We will be flying in and out of Seattle. Sally Farhat Kassab: As you probably know, there's not much going on in Blaine, though you'll want to check out the famous Semiahmoo Resort, set on a beautiful spit with a 1,100 acre wildlife preserve. It has five restaurants, so you don't even have to cross the border! But you'll want to. Vancouver is one of my favorite cities in the world. For my Vancouver and Seattle suggestions, please see my answers above. On your way back, I'd stick to Washington state, unless you want to spend the entire time in Portland. In Washington, depending on what you like, my vote is to head to the San Juan Islands. (Please see my response to the mom from Southborough for a sample three-day itinerary). _______________________ Louisville, KY: When is the best time to visit the area for outdoor activities? Sally Farhat Kassab: Great question! July and August, hands down. Seattle summers don't get too hot (just sunny and beautiful in the 70s), and people start to believe that it never rains. (It does. But just drizzle, rarely that downpour rain that the East Coast gets.) _______________________ Naples, FL: We will be flying in and out of Vancouver, going out to Tofino, back to Vancouver via Victoria. Now we've heard about Ziptrek at Whistler. What's the best way to fit this in without too much back tracking? We'll pick up a car at the end of our Vancouver stay, there are two of us, late April-early May 2007. Thanks, Newt Sally Farhat Kassab: Hi, Newt! On your way from Vancouver to Tofino, head up to Whistler for ZipTrek, as the Horseshoe Bay ferry dock is a half-hour north of Vancouver; that's your departure point for Vancouver Island/Tofino. There's also an attraction similar to ZipTrek on Vancouver Island outside Nanaimo, which is more or less on the way to Tofino. It's called Wild Play Park, and is one of the original bungee places. They have 10 zip lines in the trees there. Whee! _______________________ Valdosta, GA: I will be spending one short day in Seattle and then driving over to Spokane to look at Gonzaga University for 2 days. I have never been to Washington. What can I see in this short time? Sally Farhat Kassab: OK, so you didn't ask, but Gonzaga is a great school! A lot of my friends went there. If you're just spending a day in Seattle, check out the Pike Place Market, waterfront, and Space Needle. Have a drink at a sidewalk table at one of the Belltown restaurants. On to Spokane. The drive from Seattle to Spokane is looong. (But some parts are just beautiful: mountains and trees everywhere). Most Seattleites have never even been to Spokane, and it's in the same state! While you're there, enjoy Riverfront Park, then stop at The Shop ( a cozy coffee shop in a former gas station. It's in the up-and-coming South Perry District ( In the summer, you can watch movies in The Shop's parking lot! _______________________ Providence, RI: I'm planning a September trip to Seattle to visit a friend of mine. We'd like to take a short road trip (one or two nights) to see the Washington wine country, maybe ending in Portland OR and then I'd like to go to San Francisco to visit another friend. I was thinking of driving (in a rental) because of the beauty of that part of the country. I'm from Texas orgininally so I don't mind a good 6 - 8 hour stretch of driving (with breaks for eating & stretching). Is this a good idea or are there other options? The whole trip should be about two weeks (I can probably add a day if necessary). I was thinking of flying into Seattle and out of San Francisco. Any tips on inexpensive accommodations, restaurants along the way, etc would also be helpful. Thanks so much! Sally Farhat Kassab: Hello! Yes, drive! It is as beautiful as you hear, and September will be perfect. I'd hang out in Seattle three days, spend two days in Wine Country, another three in Portland, and the rest in San Francisco. From Seattle, drive east to the Yakima Valley, Washington's Wine Country with 40-plus wineries. If you drive even farther east, you're in the town of Walla Walla, which has become a wine mecca. But since you're only there a few days, you'll probably want to stick with the Yakima Valley. Once you get there, several limo companies will map out a four-hour trip for you. One is Moonlit Ride Limousine ( If you choose to drive, here's a sample one-day itinerary: Start in downtown Yakima at Kana Winery ( and Yakima Cellars ( Head south on 1-82 for nine miles and take exit 40 to Sagelands Winery (, with spectacular views of the Yakima Valley and Mount Adams. Have a picnic lunch there. Stay on Yakima Valley Highway and drive up the hill to Windy Point Vineyards ( Stop at the Piety Flats winery (; their tasting room feels like an old country store and they're famous for their peach sundaes. Good inexpensive lodgings are the Outlook Guest House (, in the town of Outlook, or the Vintner's Inn at Hinzerling Winery (, in Prosser. For authentic Mexican food, try La Fogata in Sunnyside, 509-839-9019. If you're more of a meat-and-potatoes person, the Squeeze Inn in Zillah 509-829-6226 has been there since 1932. Both restaurants will cost you less than $35 for two. _______________________ Dallas, TX: Hello, I'm planning a trip to Seattle this summer. I heard it's got the best seafood restaurants in North America. What's your favorite? Thanks. Sally Farhat Kassab: I don't have one! It depends what I'm craving that day. If I want cheap, fried seafood, I stop at Ivar's Fish Bar on the pier. If it's a special occasion, I head to Canlis, for dishes like oysters live on the half shell, or wild Pacific king salmon with hazelnut-caper butter. Tourists *love* Elliott's Oyster house, right on the water. Try their Dungeness crab. In Bellevue, Seastar is delicious. _______________________ mokena Illinois: This July my husband and I are planning 2 three day adventures with our 2 year old grandson to give his new Seattle mom a break with her new baby. We do not want to drive more than 4 hours, since he gets restless in a car. We would like a place that has hiking without too many mountains and a swimming pool. We are looking for ideas? Sally Farhat Kassab: Hello. Great question! Head to Whidbey Island. The Coachman Inn is basic and has a pool. Visit Joseph Whidbey State Park, with a great beach. Deception Pass State Park is nine miles north -- and it's the most visited park in the state. It has 35 miles of trails. _______________________ Fernandina Beach, Florida: My wife and I will be traveling from Jacksonville, Fl, to Victoria, BC. Leaving Jax on 29May. We will be in Victoria until 12 June. While there we hope to spend two nights and possibly three days in Vancouver. What are the must see locations in Vancouver? We will have a car at our disposal. If you have time please make some recommendations for Victoria. Neither of us have been to British Columbia before. Thanks, Bill Sally Farhat Kassab: Hi, Bill! I've talked a lot about Vancouver, so I'll give you a sample one-day itinerary for Victoria. You didn't mention where you're staying. I highly recommend the Fairmont Empress Hotel. It's been there since 1908 and is worth seeing even if you're not sleeping there. Here goes: have breakfast at Lure Restaurant (try the eggs Benedict with candied salmon), with seating overlooking the beautiful Inner Harbour. Then head out on a walking tour of downtown, strolling along Government Street to Chinatown. Stop for dim sum for lunch at Don Mee Seafood Restaurant. Return to the Inner Harbour promenade and flag down a Horse-Drawn Carriage for a tour of Beacon Hill Park. Grab an ice cream at Beacon Drive-In Restaurant, then visit the Emily Carr House. Catch a Victoria Harbour Ferry to Songhees Park on Songhees Road, then meander five minutes along the waterfront to Spinnakers Brewpub. On any day, don't miss the world-famous Butchart Gardens. They are breathtaking! _______________________ Sally Farhat Kassab: Thanks so much for your wonderful questions. I hope my answers have helped you plan a special trip to the Pacific Northwest. For detailed three-day sample itineraries, bring along a copy of my book, Best Places Northwest. Places I've marked with a "piggy bank" icon are the best hotels and restaurants at the lowest prices. Traveling is magical; cherish every moment of it! _______________________

Your Coolest Thrills

In April, we published our 2007 Cool List, celebrating the best new thrills. We also asked for your stories of the coolest thrills you've experienced during vacation. Our prize for the best story is a Sony Reader, a $300 e-book device that can store up to 80 books and has a glare-free screen. (Learn more about the device by clicking here.) Read the best response--and the runners-up. The Winner: Seeing lava eruptions in Sicily Last year, during the final week of a three-week vacation in Italy, we spent several days on the isle of Lipari with my wife Jeanne and our 23-year-old twin boys Jaime and Justin. The goal of our holiday was to view the Stromboli Volcano in the Aeolian Islands. After a call confirming the required guide to climb Stromboli Volcano, Jaime, Justin, and I took an early-afternoon hydrofoil to Stromboli, the outermost of the Aeolian Islands, about 35 miles from the small town of Milazzo, Sicily. Once in Stromboli, we were issued helmets, and rented other gear. Our group was comprised of about 20 people. We departed around 5 P.M., and I realized that I was only 59-years-old and not prepared for the climb to the top of the 3,000-foot-high volcano. At several points, I thought I had hit my endurance limit. But within about three hours, we made it to the top. Nothing had prepared me for the magnificence of witnessing my first eruption. By this time, the sun had set, but there was still a shrouded light. There were several volcano vents in the Stromboli cone, and like clockwork, one of the several vents would expend with a swoosh every seven to eight minutes, shooting out a lava fountain with a tremendous hissing sound as it erupted before falling back into the cone. We sat there for 45 minutes watching this magnificent display. [See photos here.] As the darkness enveloped us, the eruptions changed in character. As the lava would fall back to earth and cool, looking at it would leave you with a sight similar to viewing a city from 35,000-feet above, with streetlights as tiny dots. If I had chosen the comfort of boat-viewing, which I'm sure included some fine alternatives to the spring water I was drinking, I'm sure I would have been rewarded by the sight of molten lava rock spilling over the side of the slope of the crater--what the locals call the Sciaradel Fuoco, or Trail of Fire.--Robert Mitchell of Guilford, Conn. First Runner-up: Visiting the Basement of the Birds in Mexico I never win anything: church raffles, oversized carnival teddy bears, Ed McMahon's sweepstakes--zippo. But that changed in October 2005, when I went to a screening preview of The Legend of Zorro. After viewing the film, there was a fiesta in the theater mezzanine where one could enter a lottery to win a trip to Mexico. Even though my luck was nil, I still filled out an entry form and folded it up in an oragami-ish manner, hoping that the prize-picker would sense the "Choose me!" energy vibe emanating from the form. It worked! I won a trip for two to San Luis Potosi, where Zorro was filmed. Woo-hoo! At dusk that evening, Alfredo told us that we would soon see a spectacle rarely seen anywhere on Earth. It's called Sotano de Golondrinas , loosely translated as The Basement of the Birds. In the mountains near Axtla, it is a deep cavern measuring 30 stories tall. We hiked for 40 minutes to get to the "basement," stopping at a steep cliff where we could see the cavern. As the sky began to darken, thousands of birds (black swallows and green parrots) whizzed past our heads. It was raining birds, and we felt the wind on our heads as they zoomed past. With rumors of a puma on the loose, we headed back to the top.--Lisa Quinn, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Second Runner-up: Catching a Kangaroo in Australia Volunteering has always topped my list of ways to vacation. I've had the opportunity to go with EarthWatch Institute on expeditions. The one I loved the most was in Idalia National Park in the outback of Queensland, Australia. One night we went on a kangaroo catch. To accomplish this, we had to find a red female and hold a spotlight on her. If she stops and poses, a .22 caliber rifle bullet is fired over her head to "stun" her for about 5 seconds. On this trip, three of us were runners. One time, we took off after a female kangaroo, tackling it to the ground after a struggle. Her tail was very strong, but we finally got her in a burlap bag. She was given a shot of valium through the bag to reduce her stress level, so we could measure her legs, take a blood sample from her tail, and take a milk sample from one of her teats. We also had to measure the joey's legs, which was inside her pouch. The last thing we did was to attach a radio collar on her and ear tags for future tracking. She was weighed, and then left to go out unscathed. We watched her hop away into the night. What a thrill of a lifetime to be that close to the animals in the outback!--Carol Beamesderfer, Harrisburg, Pa.