Posted by: hagengreen | December 13, 2009

Lighting up trees in Leavenworth

We just got back from Leavenworth; a small Bavarian town nestled at the foothills on the east side of the American Alps. In clear view from downtown is Cashmere Mtn, Cannon Mtn, Prusik Peak, and Mount Stuart from the right angle. The sight is amazing on a clear winter day. I cannot think of a more beautiful place less than 3 hours from home.

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The trip was to join the Christmas Tree lighting festival. We went with friends of ours, Rob and Kanoe, who are always great company. Initially finding a hotel was like getting a flight: expensive and hard to find a good one. Thanks to my good friend Rob he found us something comfortable for all of us. We stayed in a mediocre hotel that cost an arm and a leg, but it was a warm jumping spot just five minutes from Gustav’s which essentially delineates the beginning of downtown Leavenworth from the west. (No, I can’t highly recommend the HoJo. 😉 Starting just before noon, hoards of tourists from Seattle were bussed into the downtown area. The population of the town felt like it went from a few hundred to a few thousand in the course of only three hours. I bet the residents hate it, but love sitting in their stores collecting premiums from unsuspecting tourists. Ah… the joys of capitalism.

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The tree lighting itself was entertaining yet uneventful. The mayor said a few words as a mayor should for his town’s biggest event. And even jolly old Santa came out with a list of who was naughty and nice. Unbelievably, out of the thousands of people present, nobody was on the list. Not even the guy who elbowed his way through the crowd? Earlier in the day I asked my friends where the magical “tree” was located so I could keep my eyes out. The only response I got was: you’ll see. After the brief speeches were over, the countdown began to the tree lighting. When zero hit, I looked around trying to figure out which trees lit up! Not only did the various trees in the area get lit up, but the building behind us also was lit up. Neato, but it took me a few moments to figure it out as it was pretty subtle.

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A trip to Leavenworth is never complete without a finely crafted brew and wine tasting. We tasted at Okanagan Wineries (formally Gold Digger), Pasek, and the “corner store”. The first two charge for tastings, but they match their fine wines with (probably even better) cheeses. It’s remarkable how cheese and wine can complement each other to magically bring out even better flavors to the palate. Ever thought of putting Boxing Cheddar with a Pinot Noir? Or how about Havarti with a Dry Riesling? One of my favorites was a Mustard Cheese with a Gewurztraminer. Alone, both are good. But together, they even out and bring out this buttery goodness that is very smooth. I can’t imagine who has the paid job to find these pairings! One of my friends didn’t eat the whole piece of Havarti that was paired with the Riesling, so I took it later with a Pinot to see just how the cheese-wine pairings work. I thought to myself that it can’t be that hard, and nearly any cheese should just work. Right. I hate to ruin a highly rated Pinot, but that’s exactly what I pulled off. Lesson learned, but I have a went forward with a great appreciation for the culinary artistry behind the food and drink so casually pushed our way. Check out my tasting notes, below.
A quick note on the corner store: it’s a free gig, but I remember it being pretty good when I tasted last year. Unfortunately it didn’t live up to expectations this time around.

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The German heritage of this small town is strongly rooted in their beer. Thus, you cannot pass through this town without trying one of the many brews available on tap in every pub on nearly every street corner. Our happy corner went by the name Ducks and Drakes which is a short stone’s throw from Gustav’s. They have over a dozen taps, fast service, and friendly atmosphere. One of my favorite things to do in a new place is try the most obscure drink or the one with an odd name. I found my nirvana in Iron Horse’s Brass Ass Brown Ale. Squeeze the slice of lemon, and you’ll have a cold but tasty slice of heaven awaiting your sip. I went through three of these the first night. And yes, I was back the second night, too.

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One of the unexpected but fun things we found at Ducks and Drakes was their BuzzTime online trivia system. When we first snatched the first available table, we found this breadbox-sized blue device with a small screen and keyboard. It was wirelessly hooked up to the TV, along with several other units throughout the bar. The name on the device was “JACK O”, so we assumed our newly stolen identity and played along. (The next evening we found out you can log-in as a guest with full access and didn’t need to assume someone else’s logged-in account.) The game kicker is the longer you take to answer the question (or switch your answer), the less points you receive. It starts at 1000, and after a second starts trickling down until zero. As the points go down, the answers disappear or hints are shown. If you didn’t know the answer you still have a chance at 100 to 200 points right at the end where they eliminate all but two (still guessing) or give you a good enough final hint that the answer is obvious. I’m not the best at pop culture, but I know my science, history, and geography. Along with my friends on hand, we got most of the answers right. We noticed as the night went on, our score didn’t get better. (Surprised?) In fact, we tanked badly towards the end of the night. One game we were doing so poorly (that would be zero points!) that we just decided to ditch the game. We wanted to save the embarrassment from other trivia players and pretended we never even started the round. Despite our decline in trivial pursuit, we had a wonderful night with great friends and drinks.

After a few days of enjoying the Bavarian tourist lifestyle, we were ready to leave the cold wintry wonderland of Leavenworth and return to the other side of the hill nestled adjacent to Lake Washington. No snow yet, but the weather folks say we may be in for a dusting tomorrow!

Happy holidays. Be safe out there, and cheers to good health going into 2010.

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