I had a panic attack on the way to Soule Creek Lodge. The road to the lodge goes up a steep slope—one that, during the course of my trip research, literally every TripAdvisor review had mentioned. Most of the roads we’d taken on the 2 hour drive from Victoria to rural Vancouver Island gave the impression that they were created after man had waged a lengthy battle with Mother Nature, where Mother Nature had ceded just enough space for humans to painstakingly create narrow, snaking, two-lane roads. And the road to Soule Creek Lodge was no different. My then boyfriend (and now fiancé) would later tell me that he felt the wheels of our rental car slip beneath us on the uneven, gravel road as we inched our way to the top of the ridge where the lodge and assorted outbuildings are nestled together above the tree line. I was white knuckling the car’s console as we rounded the corner that dropped us in front of a cozy, cedar building turned lodge. A sign next to the screen door instructed us to ring the doorbell for service. The co-owner of the lodge, greeted us, bearing only a clipboard—no iPad or other electronic device to check us in. I was taken aback at first because it’s so rare to use pen and paper for anything in 2017. We were checked in and then given directions to our yurt, and continued the next leg of our adventure.
I started this season with no hope at all that Boring Ben would be even remotely interesting. The season premiere, with its annual parade of women who have career titles like “Chicken Enthusiast” gave me an inkling of hope that the casting would offset Boring Ben’s bland personality. I was wrong. Boring Ben is not only stupidly boring, he clearly has favorites and everything that doesn’t involve those 3 is an exercise in prolonging the inevitable.
After last week’s first “To Be Continued” of the season, we pick back up with Ben talking to Olivia about the things other girls say about her behind her back. Olivia says the other girls like painting their nails and she likes to “read books and talk smart things.” Ben doesn’t send her home because there’s literally not one other interesting person on this show and the producers are smart.
It’s trip time! Man, this season is flying by, and I can’t believe we’re already at the part of the season where they’re visiting whichever country’s tourism board paid them the most money to have one of its most populous cities temporarily ruined by the presence of this show. Mexico City seems…random, and as the ladies cruise through the city in what looks like a mini presidential motorcade, Olivia, Queen of the Secret Bunny Boiler Society, begins gabbing away about her connection with Boring Ben, and how their love language is secret.
Okay, confession time. Last week, I was in Toronto and missed most of the episode because I couldn’t figure out which channel it was on (did you know we export this?). This week, I fell asleep during The Bachelor last night. And by “during,” I mean I had the brilliant idea to lay in my bed in total darkness, under the covers, at like 7:30. And so, I fell asleep. Also: my DVR did not record the episode, so I’m watching this episode on Hulu at 5:30 in the morning, because I love all 10 of you who read these recaps and I want to provide you with entertainment.
Do you know what’s really difficult? Having a Word .doc in full-screen mode and trying to discern the different voices while The Bachelor plays in the background—everyone except Olivia has a case of Kardashian vocal fry.
Whenever I travel, I make my best effort at experiencing a place as a local would. Yes of course, standing beneath the Eiffel Tower as it sparkles and twinkles at night is its own kind of next level magic, but so is finding yourself wandering down winding streets or discovering a day brightening citron presse at a café that wouldn’t be listed in a Fodor’s guide. Returning to a hotel, typically far removed from places where people actually live, always makes me a little sad and breaks the precious illusion that I’m some sort of local/tourist hybrid. So, that’s why I was so happy to discover The Drake Hotel in Toronto (no relation to Drake). It’s a rare mixture of the delightful luxuries of a hotel stay, but located in a lively neighborhood that feels like it could be your home (if only you were slightly cooler).
The Drake Hotel is located on the far edge of Toronto’s Queen West neighborhood, a vibrant mix of shops, bars, restaurants, and art galleries. And, fittingly, the hotel itself is one living, breathing work of art, with installations and paintings in every conceivable space. Each of the hotel’s 19 rooms boasts unique pieces of art and character all its own.
I stayed in a Den, which featured an incredibly comfortable queen-sized bed and a mini bar stocked with all the booze you could ever want. The bathrooms in the rooms are small but interestingly laid out—the bathroom door also doubles as a privacy screen for the shower. The throw blanket on the bed was produced by a local artist, and the terrifying/weirdly charming doll on the bed was also made by a local artist and was available for purchase.
My favorite part of staying in The Drake? The bars (which makes me sound like an incredible lush and I honestly don’t really care because these bars are awesome). Hotel bars are typically watering holes for weary tourists and businessmen which means the drinks may be strong, but the surroundings lack character. Because The Drake is such a well-integrated piece of the neighborhood, actual people from Toronto flock to the two bars on-site; the Sky Yard (a rooftop deck that stays open year round), and the Lounge—my visit included a Friday and Saturday night stay, and on both nights, there was a line at least two dozen people long just to get in. The cocktails are strong and have playful names—I had more than one “Call Me Maybe” as well as a “Mother’s Little Helper.” Check the calendar for DJs and live music at either of those two bars or the Underground, located…below the hotel.
Another high point of the hotel is the food. On my first night, I had delicious, sticky duck wings in The Lounge, and then for two consecutive mornings, the best blueberry scones I’ve ever eaten in my life from The Drake Café, located just off the lobby of the hotel.
During my wanders around the city, I noticed that most of the other hotels were centered closer in to the business and entertainment district, areas which are great for your standard tourist sightseeing activities, but don’t give you a sense of Toronto as a whole. The Drake isn’t near any tourist attractions, but there are street car stops just outside the door that will drop you downtown in less than half an hour, and you’re in the heart of one of the most multicultural cities in North America. It’s also ideally located for exploring some of Toronto’s best bars—a quick walk to The Lockhart (AKA the Harry Potter bar). It’s not a hotel for everyone—if you’re looking for a resort or a hotel that will provide you with an in-room Keurig and soothing, mass-produced Monet re-prints, this is definitely the wrong choice. But if want to feel like a part of the city you’re visiting rather than just a visitor, even just for a few nights, this is the hotel for you.
The downsides to being one of the last people in the western world to read the Harry Potter books are numerous—I knew how the books ended long before I’d started reading them, I spent years of my life confused by Halloween costumes that featured people drawing lightning bolts on their heads, and I just genuinely did not understand cultural references that seemed to be in a different language. The one upside is that by the time I’d finally read all the books (at the ripe age of 25), I was old enough to appreciate that butterbeer likely had some sort of alcohol in it, and it would be one of my life’s missions to find butterbeer in real life. And drink it.
So, last fall, when I saw a number of articles about the “Harry Potter Bar” in Toronto, a city that had started to really fascinate me, I knew I’d need to book a trip. The Internet warned me that there would be an insanely long line for this tiny, intimate bar, but on the night my companion and I ventured into The Lockhart on a Sunday evening, we were among the first customers.
At first glance, The Lockhart seems like another small, hip bar with a somewhat obscure sounding name and a list of achingly trendy cocktails. But when you pass through the thick, velvet curtains (presumably there to block the draft from the very, very cold Toronto nights, but which lend an air of magic to your entrance into the bar), a closer look reveals a series of Harry Potter references that true fans/series devotees will catch, including, but not limited to: the words “Potions and Elxirs” are painted on the exposed brick wall above the bar, on one side of the bar is “Platform 9 ¾” sign, and the the name itself is a reference to a character from the books, the stag’s head bar logo, and cocktails like “The Befuddlement Draft” hint at the books (as well as what will happen to you once you’ve finished the drink). And the greatest touch of all–the words “All Was Well” hang on the wall in the form of a fluorescent lit sign (a reference to the last words of the last book in the series).
We ordered the Befuddlement Draft, which includes a flaming shot and though it says it’s for 2 people, could easily serve 3-4. It was very strong. And very good. Though not listed on the menu, you can order butterbeer as an off menu item, and I have to say that this is exactly the butterbeer I’d imagined when reading J.K. Rowling’s words (we have an adequate option in Seattle, but still, The Lockhart’s is the best I’ve had). The bartenders are friendly, if slightly bemused by the presence of adults who (myself included) spend inordinate amounts of time photographing every aspect of their visit to The Lockhart. And even if you’re not a huge fan of the books, the drinks are strong and the atmosphere and music are a perfect place for a drink or two with someone special.
We visited the bar just a few days after the death of Alan Rickman (who played Severus Snape in the film adaptations of the series), and touching tributes to Snape/Alan Rickman were written all across the chalkboard walls that line the hallway to the bathroom (the bathrooms themselves are also worth a visit).
On the blisteringly cold walk back from the bar to my hotel, along crooked streets lined with tidy, two-story brick homes, I was reminded of 4 Privet Drive and all the magic that started there for a young Harry. And even though I’m neither young nor a wizard, an evening spent in a place with such a playful spirit (combined with a healthy dose of butterbeer) lent a little bit of magic to my ordinary muggle life.
Welcome this week’s edition of Full House: Valtrex Manor Edition. We begin the episode with Ben staring out of a window while drinking from a mug of what I will assume is straight vodka, his eyebrows knitted together, deep in thought, his eyes screaming, “what have I signed myself up for?”
Group.Me Well, honey child, you’ve signed up to date women like Lace, in groups of 4 or more, on national television. It’s as clear as the Monarch vodka in Boring Ben’s mug that Lace is some sort of plant by the producers. A deliciously terrible human embodiment of non-violent borderline personality disorder. The women claim to be “excited” about the prospect of a group date, as though they are unfamiliar with this mainstream re-enactment of “Sister Wives” and how wildly uncomfortable it will be to compete with other women for the affection of a relative stranger.
At the end of last season, I decided I wouldn’t write recaps of this season because I thought he wouldn’t be interesting enough to snark on. But it’s cold and dark in Seattle, my blog hasn’t been updated in 5 months, and I’ve decided to bring a little extra light into my winter evenings (also people repeatedly asked me if I was recapping, and I’m a little vain and so of course!).
We begin with a tour of Ben’s little town, which looks a lot like Chris, Hamster King of Iowa’s town if his town hadn’t been abandoned by all the other little Iowan hamsters. We learn that Ben was the wholesome all-American boy of every insane Bachelor lover’s dreams—the high school quarterback, homecoming king, with a heart of gold. We pause for an uber depressing chat at Ben’s family’s beautiful, lakeside home. Ben’s parents tell him that he’s not unlovable and that he’s a wonderful man. And man, I really don’t want to make fun of him! Either he’s a gifted actor or he’s genuinely a good dude and I can’t mock him because I’m not a monster.
By the time my 4th and final quarter at Medill rolled around, I was almost fully out of steam. The capstone project for my magazine emphasis was zapping what little energy I had left, and I was completely burnt out on the idea of being a journalist, let alone being a writer. I had my eyes set firmly on the prize of post-grad school employment here in Seattle, and coasted along in any class not related to my capstone project. One day, in my global journalism class, our instructor announced we’d be receiving a visit from James Foley, a Medill graduate and freelance international journalist who’d recently been released from 44 days in captivity, held by supporters of Gaddafi with three other Western journalists.
Right after James was kidnapped, there’d been quite a bit of chatter about him in class and a handful of vigils outside the main Medill building. Everyone had positive things to say about him. Still, I’d read “My War Gone By, I Miss It So,” and was fully expecting to meet some wizened, gimlet-eyed, adrenaline junkie who would be unimpressed by the prospect of meeting a room full of would-be journalists (and me). And that is absolutely not who wandered into our classroom, that late spring evening. James arrived with no fanfare, just sort of appeared in the doorway (a friend and I also remarked at how good looking he was, especially in spite of the ordeal he’d been through). Our instructor practically had to strong arm James into sitting in the place of honor at the head of our communal table. For the next hour and change, James told us stories of his work before Medill, at Medill, and after Medill. He detailed his time in captivity in Libya, showing us the diary he’d kept by writing on the insides of discarded cigarettes boxes. He answered all of our silly questions, and was patient and kind. He talked to us about his friend and colleague Anton Hammerl, who was killed during a gunfight when the group was captured in Libya, and the foundation that had been set up to honor his slain friend’s memory.
James handed out t-shirts that his family and friends had made during his capture—white, with a blue graffiti design and the words “Free Foley” scrawled across the front and “freefoley.org” printed on the back. The website had been transformed into a portal in memory of Anton Hammerl, including fundraising efforts to support Hammerl’s family, and he encouraged us to wear the shirts and spread awareness. After class, we all headed to a restaurant in Evanston and had dinner, and I was struck at his easy manner given what he had endured less than a month before. A couple days after he visited our class, James wrote an email to our class to say thank you–which was remarkable in and of itself. His generosity of spirit and passion for his profession—not as an adrenaline junkie as so many war correspondents are said to be, but as someone who believed what he was doing was a service that society needed was evident, and he was everything you’d hope to find in a journalist who specialized in conflict reporting. I lack the mettle and fortitude necessary to be a war correspondent, but his talk reminded me of the power of the written word, and though it took a different route than either of my newswriting instructors would have liked (sorry, Steve, Melissa, and Susan), I’m still writing.
After graduation, I moved back to Seattle, and somehow, amongst all the Northwestern gear I’d collected, I still had the Free Foley shirt. Last summer, while packing for a trip to California, I’d been reminded that James had been captured again, and decided to bring the Free Foley shirt with me to wear on long walks around the cities I was visiting, my own one woman vigil. So, when the news of his brutal murder at the hands of ISIS appeared in my Twitter feed, the shirt was with me, serving as a devastating totem of what was lost at the hands of vicious terrorists. Because I never, ever delete email from my gmail account, I immediately searched through my mail to find the thank you note James wrote after he visited our class. His words were directed at us, but they apply to him as well.
“Your generosity and inquisitiveness and of course passion, were inspiring beyond a typical sharing experience for me. It’s exciting just to think of what truths you can share with the world. It’s yours to tell.”
Rest in Peace, James. And thank you for helping to tell the stories and truths that needed to be told.
I’m a summer baby. Born on one of the hottest days of the year (in…1984), I think my mind and body have just always been optimized for maximum vitamin D absorption. Which is why Seattle winters can really get to me. But then…Seattle summers. Those keep me here and they are, quite frankly, perfect. It’s a common refrain amongst everyone from Uber drivers to the most devout pluviophiles who shake their fist at the sun if it is out for too many consecutive days–there is no more beautiful place than Seattle in the summer. After nine solid months of gray, misty days, the omnipresent evergreen trees emerge from a thick fog into dazzling, sapphire colored skies. Seattle is flanked by mountains on either side, and water at almost every turn, and on a clear day, it feels like you can see forever. Or, the mountain, when it’s out. And in addition to the natural beauty, this city of quiet, sometimes very serious seeming people, opens up, and we all turn into human sunflowers, craning our heads toward the sun. The energy is palpable, and it’s why companies bring new recruits here during the summer.
So for that long, gorgeous stretch of sunny days between July 5th and mid-September (though, admittedly, this year’s summer started in early June), it’s important to take advantage of every possible hour of time outside. Wring every drop of vitamin D from the long summer days, and take advantage of the city’s amazing assortment of outdoor activities, my favorite of which are the events hosted by Seattle Art Museum at their Olympic Sculpture Park.
Back in March, my sister and I went to a SAM Remix at the Seattle Art Museum. Because this is Seattle, I expected the usual mix of cargo short clad Amazon and Microsoft employees, pondering the meaning of contemporary art in respectful silence. Instead…well, in addition to the usual suspects, there was a dazzling array of bright young things and an energy I’ve never felt at an event in Seattle, a quick hit of Seattle Summer magic for one early spring evening. There was a DJ, dance floor, people actually dancing, great drinks, and access to all the art on display at SAM. And, of course, being able to support my hometown art museum.
So, I was super excited to hear that there will be a SAM Remix on August 21st at the Olympic Sculpture Park, one of my favorite parks in the city. I’ll be guest tweeting from the iHeartSAM Twitter account, but if you’re in town, use the code twitterremix0821 for $5 off adult event tickets. If you need me, you can find me grinning like a small child, absorbing all the energy around–solar and/or people-based–in the hopes it will sustain me in between summers.