On Washington's Olympic Peninsula, Highway 101 runs along the Pacific Ocean between Queets and the Hoh Indian Reservation. To the east are the rain forests of Quinault, Queets and Hoh.
You'll find some vast beach views and access to the sand at several points, including Kalaloch, above, and below, where great gobs of drift logs are piled high this spring, having run off the rain forest rivers.
The beaches are wide, hard-packed, and nearly vacant in May.
I began my week with halibut and cod, but now I am on a salmon run.
Salmon for dinner three nights in a row is reason enough to travel to the Northwest.
My first salmon meal was a filet pan fried, fresh and juicy with veggies and rice, and a glass of local pinot gris, at the Hood River Hotel in the city of Hood River, Ore., about an hour east of Portland. (About $20 plus wine.)
The second salmon, also pan fried but with even more flavor, was the highlight of the week -- perfectly cooked, sitting on a bed of grilled asparagus and sweet yellow and red bell peppers sauteed with onions, garlic, olive oil, sherry vinegar and seasoned with smokey paprika. The fish was garnished with deep fried fennel frites -– with a glass of pinot gris (about $21 plus wine).
The second preparation, at Nora’s Table in Hood River, was called springer salmon, said owner and chef Kathy Watson. The fish is in the early spring run of salmon on the Columbia River. “This fish is caught on lower Columbia, near the mouth, just as the fish enter the river system. It’s really luscious, fatty and red because the fish have been out feeding in the ocean,” she said.
My third dinner was salmon belly lollipops on a stick ($16), in Moclips, Wash., at the Ocean Crest Resort. The fish was tender and juicy, mixed with soy and ginger, accompanied by a caesar salad ($8).
Room or table with a view?
Given a choice between a fancy hotel room and a fine dinner, I’ll take the dinner, especially if it includes a great view. I’m sleeping in the room, not looking out the window.
At Moclips, Washington, smack on the Pacific Ocean, the cheap room ($57 plus tax in the spring) was small and drab at Ocean Crest Resort, with a window onto the parking lot. The motel ice machine was out of order.
Dinner, on the other hand, was at a picture window that stretched across the restaurant. I looked out at the Pacific Ocean rolling toward the beach at Moclips with gusto, trees swaying in the high winds of a May storm.
Thanks to some pinot gris with my salmon lollipops and caesar salad, I managed to spend more than half the cost of the room, to which I didn’t hurry back.
When you look over the wide Columbia River from Oregon toward Washington on the other side, you might conclude that the white caps on the waves that seem to be traveling west to east -- left to right -- are the result of a very heavy current.
Well, there’s a heavy current, where the river cuts through the mountains at the Columbia River Gorge.
But the current is headed in the opposite direction, downstream from east to west toward the Pacific Ocean.
What’s headed east, causing all that watery commotion, is the wind.
Which is why the Columbia River Gorge, east of Portland, Ore., is one of the world’s best places to windsurf and kite board. The Cascade Mountains on either side of the river create a wind tunnel -- typically at up to 35 miles per hour – that moves surfers at good clip on the waters of the wide Columbia. May through September is the peak season.
It seems I was the only person in the world who had never been to Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon. Fixed that.
Rummaged around Powell’s downtown store -- as big as a city block -- for more than hour. Got a bit lost in the maze of sections and floors that once held a parking garage. From cars to books, what a great transition.
On the road again. To the Pacific Northwest. Seattle, Portland, and mountains in between.
Flew into Seattle, rented a car -- through Hotwire this time. Bought the cheapest car, ended up with Hertz and, surprise, a peppy Mazda 3, far better than what I paid for. It happens.
Thing about Hotwire is that you buy the deal, put the money up ahead of time, without the options of canceling or changing. That's the trade-off. I Paid $156.68 for five days, including taxes and fees. Rental car fees are killers. The car was $94.68.
Barcelona was a blustery 50 degrees. Rome drizzled, and the outdoor restaurants at Piazza Navona were covered with canvas, under which portable heaters warmed occasional diners. The marbles of Athens shone while the tourists braved sweater weather.
The Mediterranean Sea, off-season, is no time to cruise if you are seeking a serious suntan or a summerlike experience with the hoards of travelers who pack the Med’s most popular vacation destinations.
Off-Season -- from November into April -- cruising the Med is for travelers who seek the salt sea air, wander museums, and prefer to walk the ancient ruins of Greece, Turkey, Malta (above), and Egypt without crowds. Especially Egypt.
“You really don’t want to tour Egypt in summer,” said Armando Da Silva, long-time hotel director for Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and hotel boss on the Norwegian Jade, based year round in Barcelona, Spain.
Besides, cruise fares off-season are lower than in summer -- starting at less than $100 a day per person for two to a cabin. And now is a good time to book for next winter, as cruise lines offer discounts, best cabins choices and upgrades.