Seattle, Day Two | Downtown, Queen Anne and Fremont

On our second day in Seattle, we woke up early to the morning sun streaming through our little AirBNB’s skylights. A ten-minute drive later, we were standing on the starting line of the running path around Green Lake; the forested, immaculately-maintained loop around the sparkling water was an even 3.1 miles, making for the perfect celebration of the eight weeks of Couch to 5K training we were completing that morning. Other early-morning joggers shuffled along behind and ahead of us, and the sun was still hanging low in the sky; for the next thirty minutes, I almost forgot about the heat wave that would soon be settling in like a third wheel for the rest of our trip.

Soon, we were tucked in among the towering bookshelves at the flagship Top Pot Doughnuts downtown, tucking into a blueberry fritter, a chocolate doughnut slathered in salted caramel, and a maple-frosted cake doughnut. (The 1.5:1 pastry-to-human ratio is a theme that runs predictably through most vacations I take.) We washed it all down with gulps of coffee, rationalizing every sugary bite with memories of our earlier 5K victory.

Satiated, we took on the busy plaza surrounding the Space Needle, looking up briefly to admire the view before heading into Chihuly Garden and Glass, a museum built to showcase Dale Chihuly’s intricate and inventive blown-glass pieces. The museum was tiny but utterly worth a stop: I’d never seen anything like the backlit installation draped like a canopy across the ceiling, or the greenhouse bursting with floating glass flowers, or the canoes overflowing with Technicolor glass ornaments, or the garden filled with glass sculptures planted alongside lookalike flowers. We walked through once, then backtracked, then wandered through our favorite parts again, marveling at the years’ worth of projects that added up to a life’s work.

My brother met us downtown, where we detoured through the Olympic Sculpture Park before driving to Pioneer Square for lunch. I’d heard amazing things about Il Corvo, a weekday lunch spot that dished out three different plates of fresh pasta every day. Between the three of us, we ordered everything on the menu: maccheroni all’Arrabbiata for Jamie, squid ink gigli with salsa verde, sardines and bread crumbs for Dan, and pappardelle with pancetta, turnips and turnip greens for me. Everything was showered with mountains of Parmesan. And since each meal cost $9 apiece, it was a satisfying lunch on a couple of different levels.

Always thinking about the next meal, we stopped by Rain Shadow Meats and began to assemble the building blocks of dinner. The sandwich we bought there—spicy roast lamb leg held between slices of sourdough, slathered in pesto and topped with cucumbers and pickled fennel—was by far the fanciest thing we’d end up getting. After fighting tooth and nail for parking at Pike Place Market, the rest of the picnic came together in a matter of minutes: raspberries, Rainier cherries, sugar snap peas, Beecher’s cheese curds, and a potato and cheese hand pie from Piroshky Piroshky. Done and done.

We all grabbed blood orange ginger beer from Rachel’s Ginger Beer across the street, and fought tooth and nail for another parking spot on a steep hill near the Seattle Central Library. (Aside from “too many pastries,” the other theme of this trip was “fighting for parking.” Such is life!) I don’t often equate “library” with “must-see tourist attraction,” but this was the coolest, most modern take on a public reading space that I’ve ever seen, and completely worth the stop. We rode the elevator up to the 10th floor to gaze down through the atrium at the countless tiny, tiny readers below, and made our way back down a series of escalators, pausing to gaze over the railings at all the public art and architectural marvels.

As dusk settled in on the city, we checked out a potential picnic spot in Queen Anne; Kerry Park boasted gorgeous skyline views but was a bit too small to share with the high school cheerleaders practicing there. Parting ways with Jamie, we sat down in the grass at Gas Works Park instead, and it was just right. Plus, it was right by the Fremont Troll, whom we called on as the sun was setting. At Fremont Brewery, we finally—finally!—stopped moving, sipping our respective beers and marveling at how ridiculously full the day had been, but how glad we were that we’d made every stop: these were neighborhoods truly worth getting to know.

Camera: Mamiya 645AF
Film: Kodak Portra 400

Seattle, Day One | Capitol Hill

For most of my adult life, all I knew about Seattle was that it came recommended by a college roommate with excellent taste, and thus I knew it must be an excellent city. QED. When that same friend got hitched in the Pacific Northwest—conveniently, right after my younger brother moved to Washington—building a Seattle tour around her wedding was an inevitability. I needed to finally see what this PNW fuss was all about.

As the trip approached, my natural tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be had emerged; I’d learned just enough about the city, as they say, to be dangerous. You could accuse me of helicopter-parenting Dan’s and my three-day Seattle itinerary, and you wouldn’t be wrong! Of course, I’ll also use my friends Maggie and Catherine as scapegoats—when prompted, they both provided me with a full summer’s worth of spot-on recommendations—for the ballooning of our itinerary into a full-on logistics briefing.

But what a beautiful logistics briefing it was! We began in Capitol Hill.

Our first day started and ended at Melrose Market—for lunch at Homegrown, and then for the most carefully-prepared dinner I’ve ever eaten at Sitka & Spruce. (It was presented with an equal amount of care, too: by the chef himself! Talk about a full-service establishment.) In between meals, we took advantage of happy hour at the Pine Box, the second stop in what is seemingly a fledgling cross-country tour of funeral homes converted into bars—hey, Brewery Vivant! We’ll be back.

My brother joined just in time to lead us on a walking tour of his intimidatingly cool neighborhood: first along Broadway, the main drag, and then traversing side streets for detours through some Capitol Hill gems. We hit up Molly Moon’s for an instant-gratification sugar fix (balsamic strawberry ice cream? If you insist), and Cupcake Royale for a delayed-gratification one (their Blueberry Brown Betty’s streuseled brown sugar-cream cheese icing would have to wait till after dinner).

The Elliott Bay Book Company provided sustenance for our summer reading lists—it’s a sprawling but really well-edited shop, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to finally find the hilarious memoir I’d been searching for without success. And its travel section was so amply stocked with funny Bill Bryson titles that I couldn’t help buying this one on impulse. But soon, all three of us were back to our old tricks at Montana, for pre-dinner dive-bar cocktails made with Rachel’s Ginger Beer.

That was about all the Capitol Hill we could manage in one day, but we returned on our last night for takeout Marination Station tacos eaten in Cal Anderson Park, plus a couple of Belgians at The Stumbling Monk, where tablefuls of people were busy playing chess and Magic, and I could actually hear myself talk. I liked that very much.

I took these photos in the Japanese Garden at Washington Park Arboretum on that last day. It was here that we paused before heading back into the bustle of Capitol Hill; anyway, after a full day’s drive back from our camping expedition in Olympic National Park, we were too unshowered to interact with much other than carefully-manicured trees and koi. Walking through the gates of the garden, I knew instinctively that it was the kind of place I’d want to revisit often—much like the city itself.

Camera: Mamiya 645AF
Film: Kodak Portra 400

A Wine Country Wedding | Walla Walla, WA

Last month, I flew into the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, picked up the keys to a white rental sedan, and drove 272 miles southeast to Walla Walla—through the Cascades, burned-out moonlike hillsides, wheat fields and hop farms—to attend the wedding of my wonderful college roommate, Kelsey. (And I took some pictures, too!)

There were many, many high points of this three-day trip, not least of which was finally getting to meet Kelsey’s now-husband Kai, and seeing how blissfully happy they were about the whole celebratory weekend, and about the beginning of their married life together. The lead-up to the wedding was filled with thoughtfully-planned and low-key events, like the wine-tasting extravaganza during which every disparate group of friends and family could meet each other and develop a fun, comfortable rapport. By the time the wedding started, we all felt like old friends.

And of course, there was the reunion with those true old friends. At the Walla Walla Best Western, I shared a room with my other first friends from college, Monica and Emily, and we proceeded to catch up on years of stories over Domino’s and, well, more wine. (I took their memory with me even after I left Walla Walla, since they’d drunkenly crumbled bouquets of dried lavender all over the backseat of my rental car. Love you guys!!) I don’t really have the words to describe how good it was to see them again; for now, suffice to say it was just the absolute best.

And then there were the countless other college friends and roommates we laughed and drank and danced with, from the bachelorette party right on through the wedding reception. I may have missed my five-year college reunion earlier this summer, but Kelsey and Kai’s wedding ended up being the best reunion I could’ve asked for.

To remember the gorgeous, hundred-degree, joy- and love-filled weekend, here are a few photos I took in the quiet moments before the guests arrived. I can’t imagine a better start to a life together.

Camera: Mamiya 645AF
Film: Kodak Portra 160

Granny and Grandpa | Toledo, Ohio

When I shot my grandmother’s ninetieth birthday party last September, I was pleased to have captured so many happily expressive portraits of my family members, ranging from the sincere to the downright silly.

My grandparents themselves, however, were so busy hosting and being celebrated that I walked away with fewer shots of their smiling faces than I would’ve liked. I corrected that imbalance on a more recent trip to their home in Toledo, taking a few minutes out of the sunny afternoon to snap a couple of portraits—and I’m so glad I did.

Camera: Mamiya 645AF
Film: Kodak Portra 400

My Old Kentucky Home | Slade, Lexington and Louisville

If it’s approaching autumn, and I haven’t specifically planned a trip around the Fall Color Report findings, well, that’s a serious hit to both my sense of prioritization (I mean, what could I possibly be occupied with that’s more important than peak foliage?) and—I say this without any hint of overstatement—my very quality of life.

So last November, Dan and I headed southeast into Kentucky—Shenandoah would’ve been too far of a drive for a four-day weekend, but the Red River Gorge wasn’t. And if we planned things right (spoiler alert: we did!), we could hit up Lexington and Louisville on the way back, for equal doses of horse country, bourbon, and barbecue.

I’d like to share the photos I took that weekend, as well as our full Kentucky itinerary—because if you ever find yourself in the Bluegrass State, I can give a wholehearted recommendation of everything listed below.

Friday:

Rental car underfoot, tent and sleeping bags in tow, we spent the afternoon and evening driving to the Red River Gorge area of Kentucky—more specifically, to the little town of Slade. The destination was Miguel’s Pizza, a fantastic pizza joint that also served as a climbing gear shop; out back, you could reserve a spot to camp overnight in the huge, wide-open field encircled by forest.

If you’re smart, you’ll arrive when the sun is still hanging low in the sky; if you’re us, you’ll arrive at 11 p.m. in the pitch-black cold, realize your tent didn’t come with setup instructions, and struggle in vain to create something structurally sound out of the metal rods and plasticky tarps packed into the tent box, all of which are made of noisy materials that are almost certainly disturbing every sleeping human already tucked into their perfectly-constructed campsite. So you’ll sleep in your car, which—despite the ensuing depletion of fresh oxygen over the course of the next eight hours—ends up being quite cozy. The sheer number of stars littering the inky sky, and the last smoky sparks of the bonfire built by your fellow campers, makes up for everything. Even the 4 a.m. brush with hypothermia. You’ll laugh yourselves to sleep.

Saturday:

Waking up at Miguel’s was wonderful. The other overnighters—twentysomethings and families, couples and groups of friends alike—lent a buzzy energy to the morning, as they kept busy brewing coffee, making breakfast on their campstoves, stuffing backpacks full of gear, and toting around toothbrushes as they freshened up for the day.

We fueled up at the nearby Red River Rockhouse, a bright, airy gem of a café dishing out breakfasts made from all local ingredients (don’t miss the biscuits!), with all the laid-back, self-serve elements befitting a hiking stopover. We spent the next few hours hiking the Natural Bridge trail and its many offshoots. (Need photographic evidence of that? Just scroll down.) For lunch, we finally got to sample what Miguel’s was famous for, dutifully checking off our desired pizza ingredients on an order form, then washing down the made-to-order slices with Ale-8-One sodas. From there, we drove to Lexington, where we checked in at our AirBNB apartment—by that point, finding a shower was of the utmost importance.

That night, we grabbed dinner in town at Willie’s Locally Known, which marked our first, reverent run-in with burnt ends. We brought those, a baked potato topped with pulled pork, and an extra-crispy side of fried green tomatoes to West Sixth Brewery. Between the welcoming communal setting, the warm service, their commitment to community involvement, and—oh, right!—the refreshing beer itself, I felt very good handing over my hard-earned dollars to the folks at West Sixth.

Sunday:

This day’s itinerary isn’t for the faint of heart. It started early, too: since we visited during the horse-racing off-season, our only chance to see the Thoroughbreds run at Keeneland was to get there for the morning workouts. So we took a hint from the New York Times’ doughnut tour of Kentucky, grabbed the best doughnuts I’ve ever tasted (the apple fritter! the cream-filled yeast doughnut!) at Spalding’s, and headed to the track. Between the doughnut fuel and the track cafeteria coffee, we were content to watch the equine athletes being put through their graceful, rhythmic paces, galloping around and around the track, for close to an hour. With the little time we had left there, we walked ourselves through their self-guided tour, and caught the very beginning of Keeneland’s fall sale. (Because, beautiful horses coupled with the fast-paced, singsongy environment of an auction? Mesmerizing.)

Due to the Keeneland sale, most of the professional racing barns had paused their regular tour schedules; ultimately, I’m glad they had, because otherwise we wouldn’t have discovered Old Friends, our next stop. Old Friends is, essentially, a retirement home for racehorses, an absolutely necessary concept in a sport whose most successful sires and broodmares are treated like kings and queens through their golden years, but whose less lucrative animals are all but forgotten. For two hours, we walked around the farm, feeding carrots to the retirees and learning more about Old Friends’ amazing mission from two truly dedicated volunteers. Hearts warmed, but bellies empty, we stopped by Wallace Station for sandwiches to eat on the road (me: a pesto grilled cheese; Dan: a Hot Brown, the unfortunately-named but oh-so-classic Kentucky staple).

We caught the last tour of the day at Willett Distillery in Bardstown by the skin of our teeth, but we scored a bottle of something quite delicious, plus the knowledge that rackhouses—the buildings that bourbon barrels are stored in for aging—wouldn’t look out of place in a horror movie. We dropped off our bags just outside Louisville, checking in at our VRBO pick America’s Barn (more on that later!).

Somehow, after a nap, we regained the energy to go on; this was fortunate, because Holy Grale, a church renovated into a craft beer bar, was an unmissable place to eat and drink. The most memorable menu item? Sauerkraut pancakes, which were featured as one of The Next Trendy Food Items in Bon Appétit a month after our visit. Also memorably, I experienced my first Pauwel Kwak there, replete with its de rigueur-but-ridiculous drinking vessel. Gluttons for punishment, we apparently couldn’t help making one more exhausted stop for bourbon, Derby pie, and architecture-gaping at the fancy Brown Hotel lobby bar.

Monday:

We desperately needed to sleep in; as a bleary-eyed breakfast, we fried up fresh eggs from the hens out back (seriously! We hung out with them!) at America’s Barn. It’s a private one-room house run as a B&B by very kind owners, and decorated in true B&B style, with an amazing amount of chicken-related décor that still managed to remain tasteful. (My favorite detail: the informational binder whose cover pictured a rooster pouring a pot of coffee into a mug, with bold black text along the bottom reading: “WHAT IF EVERYTHING EXCEEDED YOUR EXPECTATIONS?” Also, there was a Jacuzzi. I didn’t want to leave.)

Called by the siren song of pastries, though, we headed back into Louisville and grabbed the last pumpkin spice doughnut at Nord’s and a pretty refined cup of coffee at Sunergos next door. Their music rivaled their java, too: I was holding my SoundHound-cued iPhone up to the speakers each time a new song came on.

We didn’t have much time in the city, so we made it count by wandering Whiskey Row, stopping into the 21c Museum Hotel to enjoy a fabulously intense exhibit—almost every piece made a bold political statement. We made our last meal count, too, at Doc Crow’s, sharing a barrel-aged brown ale from Lexington brewery Country Boy and inhaling our last bits of soul-satisfying Kentucky pulled pork and brisket.

Tuesday:

Crippling vacation withdrawal.

Planning a trip yourself? Some of our favorite resources were the aforementioned Kentucky doughnut trail article; this rundown of Lexington horse farm tour sites; this great 36 Hours write-up of Louisville that, given more time in the city, we would’ve used more extensively; the Craft Bourbon Trail site and its Louisville-based Urban Bourbon Trail counterpart; wonderful friends who’d lived there or visited; the always-dependable Yelp; and, not to be missed, those kind locals who were never caught without a suggestion for something incredible to eat.

Cameras: Mamiya 645AF, Canonet QL17 GIII, iPhone!
Film: Kodak Portra 400