About This Blog

This is yet another incarnation of my personal blog. Here's where you can read about what I do when I'm not at work: hiking, seeing plays and other shows, eating, traveling, etc.

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Keflavik, Iceland

Posted by gck Friday, December 10, 2010 0 comments

I think most of us are pretty jaded about air travel these days. Airlines are trying to cut costs wherever they can, and it’s usually safe to say that anytime something goes wrong, you can expect to end up unhappy without any signs of concern from the airline. This is especially true when the problems are related to weather.

Iceland Air is by no means a generous airline. The weight limit for carry-on bags is absurdly low (like 6kg) and they actually enforce it. Headphones cost a few euro, and there is no free food, even on an 8 hour flight. So when our flight out of Seattle was delayed 3 hours due to snow in Seattle and the airport’s lack of ability to find the proper deicer and everyone missed their connections, I expected a long stay at the Reykjavik-Keflavik airport. My hopes were that they could fly us out the same day, and if not, that the benches in the airport didn’t have armrests.

flying over Iceland IMG_0392

Amazingly, they managed to rebook everyone I heard at the desk for flights out the same day, and they offered either food vouchers at the airport or a day room at a hotel, including a taxi ride to and from the airport. We had at least 5 hours, so we took the day room option to get some rest and walk around town. Upon arrival at the hotel, they informed us that the lunch buffet was also included, so we got to eat some Icelandic food. Potatoes, meatballs, rice casserole with pickled fish surprise, sweet chili noodles, etc.

 Keflavik Keflavik  

Keflavik isn’t the most happening place in the world, and it was pretty freaking cold, but they had a nice park along the water that was nice for walking. Weird lava rocks. Flying into Iceland, from the air, the whole thing looked like a volcanic park. Upon landing, it was painfully flat – not even trees! The country looks really wild, with terrain that I’d love to explore some day (as a tourist and not a stranded traveler).

TR: Mount Rainier–Skyscraper Mountain

Posted by gck Monday, August 23, 2010 0 comments

This is one in a series of trip reports that I’m back posting.

Book stats: 8.5 miles, 1078 ft elevation gain
GPS stats: 9.2 miles, 2392 ft elevation gain
Trailhead directions and other information on WTA.

Two things you should never fully believe: the weather report and the elevation data in a hiking book.

(left: lots to hike to on the Wonderland Trail, right: MARMOT!)

Most people seem to go to Paradise when they visit Mount Rainier. If you’re willing to do a little hiking, I wholeheartedly recommend Sunrise more. It tends to be less crowded during peak weekends, and there are so many great hiking options in the intermediate difficulty range.

Leaving from the Sunrise lot, we took the Sourdough Ridge trail to Frozen Lake, where it starts to branch out. There are lots of possibilities from this beginning – Berkeley Park, Fremont Lookout, Burroughs Mountain, Dege Peak, etc. There’s something great for any hiking skill level. We took the Wonderland Trail from there, past the Berkeley Park turnoff, all the way to Skyscraper Mountain. Lots of pretty flower fields (perhaps a bit past their peak, but still in great shape) and views of Mount Rainier. Not a ton of people on the trail, and probably over half of the people we saw were people on multi-night backpacking trips.

(left: Skyscraper Mountain, right: clouds come quickly on Mount Rainier)

I think it would be pretty hard to top the conditions during my trip to Mount Rainier last year (pics), and the overcast weather on this hike definitely made for more challenging picture taking. However, there were two things that were better: no mosquitoes (because it was so cold) and marmots! I think we passed about 5 marmots total… probably all eating.

Above, you can see our destination, Skyscraper Mountain. Not too many people go here – it’s not on the map at the lodge – and the ones who do tend to stop at the bottom and enjoy the views from there (which are really good). We took the unofficial trail up to the top.  The creepiness starts here – you can see from the pictures that the mountain went from clear to cloud-covered, and it did that quite a few times since the clouds were moving so fast.

(left: flowers! one the best things about Mt. Rainier, right: the unofficial boot path up Skyscraper Mountain)

Basically, unofficial trail means there’s an obvious path, but it sucks. This one was pretty steep, with rocky, short, somewhat randomly-placed switchbacks. The picture above shows an example of the “trail.” The next two pictures show the creepy view down from the top – it’s a long way to fall, and there wasn’t much between the rocks we were on and DEATH. At one point while we were eating, the clouds surrounded us, and we were on a small rock island with all white around us. I guess it makes sense why no one joined us up there. :) The views are probably pretty spectacular on a clear day, but it was pretty cool being up there with the clouds. We didn’t stay too long, though, because it was probably about 35 degrees up there and windy. Got some misting on the way back, light hail in the parking lot, and the rain started on the drive back. Great timing! But this weather compared to the continuous rain we expected from the weather forecast was a really welcome surprise.

(views looking down from Skyscraper Mountain)

This being the first cool weather hike of the season, I took the opportunity to try a little experiment. My dad got me a Ms. Bento jar during one of his trips to Taiwan, and I’d been itching to try it out. (I also have the Mr. Bento jar, but it’s a little big and heavy for hiking use). I packed my lunch 7 hours before eating it, and my risotto and mac & cheese were still very warm when lunch time came. Not piping hot, but warm enough. Definitely more nourishing than a cold sandwich. I think this has great potential for ski season as well!

(left: lunch, right: more Rainier flowers)

Rainier really lives up to its national park designation as a hiking destination. I’d really love to get out here more – if only it was an hour closer!

(view of Rainier from the saddle before going up Skyscraper)

TR: Snow & Gem Lakes

Posted by gck Monday, August 16, 2010 0 comments

This is one in a series of trip reports that I’m back posting.

10 miles, ~2300 ft elevation gain
Trailhead directions and more information on WTA.

A less popular area of Snow Lake.

Snow Lake is a really popular hike and for good reason. The trailhead is at the Alpental parking lot, which means it's not too far down I-90 and there's a huge parking lot. And it's a big, beautiful lake that you can get to by hiking only about 8 miles with 1300 feet of elevation gain. It's crowded and loud getting to the lake basin (a NWHikers trip report referred to this as the "Conga line"), but most people stop there. Even if you follow the trail up a little around the right side of the lake, you can find a segment of the lake where you'll be relatively undisturbed. On a hot day like I had, it's really tempting to jump in the cool water (and a lot of people were). But if you like pain, you'll decide that the 1300 feet aren't enough and head towards Gem Lake.

Left: trail to Gem Lake. Right: Looking down at Snow Lake.

It's only about 1.5-2 extra miles to get to Gem, but you get some nice elevation gain that starts to hurt really quick. It goes like this: "Ooh, a puddle. Is that Gem Lake? No. Ooh, I see blue water, is that Gem Lake? No, that's still SNOW LAKE. Grr... Ooh, a bigger puddle...." But despite all that, this part of the trail is probably the most beautiful segment. There are little sections of alpine meadow with small tarns, mountain views, plenty of flowers and bushy beargrass, views of Snow Lake from above, and some nice rock paths that couldn't have been easy to put together. And there aren't nearly as many people who go this far. Gem Lake is much smaller than Snow Lake, maybe a little less showy. But it's peaceful and the water's pretty.

Left: Gem Lake (a real gem!). Right: Butterfly.

TR: Rachel Lake (ranting about dog owners)

Posted by gck Monday, July 19, 2010 0 comments

This is one in a series of trip reports that I’m back posting.

Distance: 8 miles
Elevation gain: 1600 or 2000 feet, depending on who you believe. Feels like more.
Trailhead directions and more info on WTA.


This was a gorgeous hike that could have been a lot more enjoyable if certain factors hadn’t been present. The good first… it’s lovely scenery getting there, and it’s lovely scenery most of the way to the lake. It’s on the east side of Snoqualmie Pass, so you get to see the Cascades, Lake Kecheelus, Lake Kachess. The trail follows a creek a lot of the way up, so there are many waterfalls next to the trail. It also opens up to beautiful views of Hibox Mountain and the stuff around it. The lake itself is amazing, too, big enough to support lots of people hanging out without getting too crowded. The trail continues to Rampart Ridge and Alta Mountain if your legs have the strength.


The not so good…

1. Trail condition. Every book and trip report mentions this. The creek crossings involve some fun balance on rocks and logs, and for awhile the trail IS the creek. Most of the elevation gain is at the end, corresponding with the worst maintained part of the trail, so your legs are climbing steep, rough trail and wishing they weren’t. Numerically, this is easier than the hikes I normally do, but my legs felt more sore. I also saw a backpacker lose his footing and fall off the trail to the side. Fortunately for him, some trees caught him before he went tumbling down the hill. Moral of the story: be careful.

2. Groups. Overall, I felt like there was more solitude here than at Lake Serene, but when we ran into people, it was super annoying. I hate it when people follow close behind me when there is any balance involved, especially going downhill. And there was this giant group that I swear was bigger than the allowed 12. They would spread out and then rejoin at scenic points, where certain members of the group would be sure to stand in the middle of any view for as long as possible in order to ensure that any photo you took would be of them. Grr.

3. Idiots.

a. Litter: I saw gum, a chip bag, and several clumps of toilet paper by the lake. And the giant group from #2 left orange peels. Come on, people.

b. Dogs: So many unleashed dogs. I personally don’t care about unleashed dogs swimming in the lake, as long as they aren’t barking their heads off. But on the trail, especially on a trail that’s marked “endangered” because the fragile alpine landscape is being destroyed, leash your freaking dogs. I was delicately trying to navigate my way down some rocks when a large dog comes barreling down behind me, swerves right next to me, and hurls himself down a snowfield. Mike suggests to the owners that leashes might be a good idea.

Woman: Not in the woods!
Mike: Yes, in the woods. It’s the rule.
Man: Rules are made to be broken.
Mike: No, they aren’t. This is a protected forest, and rules exist so other people can enjoy it, too.
Woman: Oh, come on, live and let live! [apparently this is the Cliché Family]

Seriously? Why don’t we all trample the fragile meadows (oh wait, their dogs already did), cut switchbacks, leave toilet paper all over the place, and build a lakeside Starbucks? Live and let live. Next time I’m bringing chocolate.



SIFF 2010: Week One

Posted by gck Monday, June 14, 2010 0 comments

I’ve attended films from every year of the Seattle International Film Festival since I moved to Seattle, making this my 6th year. When I first started, I just thought it was cool that I lived in city big and diverse enough to support a festival that showed some international films. But I thought it was just as cool that I lived in a place that had Thai restaurants.

I’ve been in the area longer now, and I’m no longer excited about Thai restaurants, which seem to be located on every third block around here. But I’ve grown to really appreciate SIFF as something that we’re lucky to have. It’s the largest and most attended film festival in the United States. In a period of about three weeks, the festival screens more than 400 films.

Things that are cool:

1. I get to see films that not many other people get to see.

2. I get to see some films that many other people will see, but I get to see them before they do.

3. I get to listen to very interesting and insightful Q&A sessions with many of the directors. It’s even cooler when it’s for one of the films described in #2.

4. Newly discovered this year – volunteering = a chance to meet lots of great people and see a lot of free film!

5. SIFF, unlike the film festivals you normally hear about, is accessible to the general public and primarily attended by “normal people.” According to The Stranger, Ed Norton (who was in town for an award) said that most film festivals are commercial messes, but SIFF was a wonderful festival for a “great film town.”

This year, I definitely had my best SIFF experience to date. I saw about 18 films and volunteered 5 shifts. And my picks this year were great! No total clunkers and a lot of great films, including several that made the awards list. I also went outside my normal types of choices and added more documentaries, which were very informative and thought-provoking.

During one of my SIFF movies, I was trying to recall the name of a French film I saw in 2005. Google was failing me, and I didn’t want to search the SIFF site using my phone. Then I remembered that I blogged about it, so I went to my blog and found the name easily. Conclusion: I need to blog about SIFF this year so I can remember things in the future.

SIFF First Weekend (5/21-5/23)

I was out of town, so I missed the first weekend. Particularly bummed about missing Soul Kitchen and The Concert. The latter ended up on the Best of SIFF awards, too!

SIFF First Week (5/24-5/27)

The Reverse was a last minute addition to my schedule… a later (9:15pm) film the day after I got back from a state on Central Standard Time. A bit risky. And Polish dark comedy – I wasn’t sure the humor would translate. Turns out, this was possibly one of the biggest sleeper hits of the festival. It didn’t take itself too similarly, and the humor was compared to the Coen Brothers. And it won the Grand Jury Prize for Best New Director!

I normally don’t go for disturbing, gory war movies, but when I saw the description of City of Life and Death, I felt like I should probably put aside my dislike of violence to learn more about an important event that many American history books overlook, the Nanking Massacre. It was shot in black and white, making it look like documentary-style, and the production and acting was top notch. Most of the people in the group I went with didn’t realize how horrible that period was, and the film was a good jump start to conversation and research afterwards. And as hard as the cruelty in the film was to watch, they didn’t go as far as they could in the portrayal of the atrocities committed. For instance, they didn’t show any mutilation. And they didn’t just portray the Japanese as monsters.

SIFF Second Weekend (5/28-5/30)

I found out about volunteering and how easy it was to sign up. There was a Sunday shift at Uptown right before a film I had tickets to, and I signed up, not knowing really what to expect. It ended up being a lot of fun. We were betting on whether people coming in for the SIFF film or Sex and the City. :) I also got to see Khargosh, the film that was showing during my shift. I missed the beginning and the ending, but it was one of those slow, plotless films that’s visually appealing, so it didn’t matter.

The second film during the shift was The Hedgehog, a sold-out screening that has continually eluded me and ended up winning the Golden Space Needle audience favorite. (They added an additional screening, but I already had a film at the time. Then they added it to the Best of SIFF weekend, but I’m out of town. Sigh.) Interesting incident: the guy who got mad that we didn’t take his word that he’d bought a ticket, even though he didn’t bring it.

Then finally, I saw the film I had tickets for, Cairo Time. Interesting incident: a woman from Italy before me in line was complaining about the system being “so terrible” because she had to wait outside. Apparently in Europe, they give you assigned seats when you buy movie tickets. I’d compare the film to a prettier, less boring, and more mature version of Lost in Translation. Same “person in a foreign land” feeling, same unrealized attraction. It was a bit slow at times, but the subtly was nice and the shots of Cairo were beautiful. Some shots were oddly reminiscent of Sex and the City 2, which Ann and I had coincidentally seen the night before, at different theaters. I really enjoyed the Q&A with the director, who had funny stories about filming in Cairo and evading the government tag-along. Patricia Clarkson was a runner up for the SIFF Best Actress award.

And that ends week 1! Film count: 4. Volunteer voucher count: 2.

Alice and Shawn's Wedding

Posted by gck Monday, May 31, 2010 0 comments

Alice & Shawn (photo courtesy of Teresa Fong) I’m at that age where everyone is starting to get married. My high school friends started a long time ago, and a good number of them have kids now. But my childhood friends have taken a little longer, maybe because they’re either busy getting really educated or enjoying the fun of single life. Well, this summer, that has officially changed. In June, Ben (my boyfriend when I was 3 years old!) is getting married, and the weekend before Memorial Day, Alice and Shawn tied the knot.

I’ve known Alice since I was seven or so. That’s about twenty years. It’s crazy to think of lengths of friendships in terms of lengths of relationships – at my age, a five year relationship seems long. And though we might not have a lot in common and I’ve spent the last ten of those years away from Louisiana, I’ve kept in better touch with her than anyone else from Baton Rouge. We’ve shared a lot of history, listened to each other’s good stories and bad stories, many of them about boyfriends… shared a love of Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, and Vienna Teng. And after years of being a long-distance observer/confidante in her journey, it was really special to see her road of singlehood end at a beautiful ceremony in a city I called my home for a decade and a half. 

Mall of Louisiana

I really don’t get back to Baton Rouge as often as I want to. The city has changed a lot and many of the people I knew have gone off to other places. Alice took me to the Mall of Louisiana to see how much it’s expanded. There’s now a Sephora in Baton Rouge! Still no Nordstrom, though. On one hand, it’s great that Baton Rouge is becoming more of a “real city,” but I think it comes at the expense of its character. The photo I snapped of the outside shopping area looked as sterile as a computer-modeled image. New residential developments mimic the identical townhouse hell that I hate seeing here in the Issaquah Highlands (and many other places). But one thing Baton Rouge has in its favor is a lot of  land, which means they don’t need to knock down the old places as much. So I got to make my traditional trip to Mike Anderson’s, still the same, to eat one of my favorite meals of stuffed crab, stuffed potato, and hush puppies.

Next year is my 10 year high school reunion (OLD!!!) so it looks like I’ll finally make a trip back to Louisiana that isn’t for a wedding. :) Until then, I’ll be dreaming of crawfish.

Congratulations to Alice and Shawn!

My mom's meal - Crawfish 7 ways @ Mike Anderson'sPlane view somewhere near Baton Rouge

Signs of Spring

Posted by gck Saturday, March 20, 2010 0 comments

Since I haven’t left the country since India last June and don’t currently have any plans to do so in the near future (particularly since my passport is expired), I have unconsciously been filling my travel need by having adventures near home. This time, I decided Friday night that I needed to take advantage of the non-rainy weather on Saturday by going hiking. Instead of fighting the Seattle crowds at Tiger Mountain or Mount Si, I opted instead to greet the smaller Bellingham crowd at Larrabee State Park.

View of Samish Bay Long way down

The drive up was about an hour and a half, which is a pretty long drive for such a short hike. But as soon as I passed Everett, the views got really pretty. I started off early, so I was looking at pastel layers of mountains beautifully reflected in a large, manmade water or sewage collection pool. :) Then 15 miles on Chuckanut Drive yielded green farm pastures (full of cows and swans?!) with snowy Mount Baker overhead, followed by views of Samish Bay. I also discovered that Taylor Shellfish is on that street, so next time I’ll have to bring ice and bring back oysters.

Flower starting to bloom View of Fragrance Lake through trees

As I was driving up, there weren’t any cars behind me, so I was starting to worry if I misjudged the popularity of the park and would be hiking alone. But no, I guess the Bellingham folks come a different way, and there were plenty of people there by the time I arrived. I wanted to start at a particular trailhead, and I managed to snag the second-to-last parking spot, and the last one was occupied a few minutes later. And that was at 9am!

The hike was on the easy side, but for the most part it was just switchbacks climbing upwards. My winter legs were complaining immediately. Fortunately, it wasn’t long at all, and I quickly reached the 1 mile mark where there was a turn off to a viewpoint of Samish Bay. There, I met the woman who parked after I did, and we chatted a bit about hiking and grumbled about how bad the elderly trail runners make us feel. She was a massage therapist from Bellingham, and we discovered that we attended the same Steely Dan concert last year. She turned back from there to continue her day, and I took a few pictures and saw a bald eagle fly by before continuing my climb towards Fragrance Lake.

Fragrance Lake Samish Bay

As soon as the switchbacks stopped, I was disappointed to see a road with cars parked. There’s nothing like walking up 1000 feet to see that it was possible to drive up. Ah well. I walked the loop around the small lake, at first only getting glimpses of the water through the trees. There were lots of benches to sit and relax, and the lake was really pretty with nice reflections of the trees. It would have been more peaceful if two dogs on the other side of the lake weren’t trying to kill each other. There was also some trail running event taking place that day, and I can only assume that the finish line was near the lake, because I could hear a lot of howling. The walk down was quick, and even with the chat time at the viewpoint and relaxing at the lake, I was back at my car around noon.

The Burlington Outlets were just an exit south of Chuckanut Drive, so I had to make a stop there to hit the only lululemon outlet in the state. Since those outlets were smaller and further from Seattle than others, it wasn’t that crowded, which made me happy.

Daffodil field White follies 

As a final stop before heading back to Seattle, I drove a few more miles south to Mount Vernon to check out the flower fields. I knew the tulips wouldn’t be in bloom yet, but I wanted to see some daffodils before the Tulip Festival crowds came around in April. It wasn’t disappointing! There were a few spots of red in a few of the tulip fields, but the daffodils were in full bloom. I even found one field with ice follies (white and yellow daffodils).

Bird feeder at my place Sushi

Got back around 3pm and caught a few little birds eating at the bird feeders in front of my condo. Took a short nap before heading into Seattle to the First Hill neighborhood, a place where I almost never go. I had yummy sushi at Sushi Kanpai and then listened to beautiful choral music at St. James Cathedral. The cathedral was really cool – I can’t believe I’ve been in Seattle this long without seeing it.

St. James Cathedral St. James Cathedral - Interior

And that’s my day!

Exploring Queen Anne

Posted by gck Saturday, February 20, 2010 0 comments


We don’t get a lot of sunny, clear days in Seattle during the winter. And usually when we get them, it’s during the week. So when the weatherman predicted a weekend of good weather, I knew I had to get outside and do something. My original plan was to head down to Pike Place Market and walk around, but I’ve done that so much. Instead, I decided to look for a place with a view.

It didn’t take me long to decide on Upper Queen Anne. I can see the hill from my condo, and I’m in Lower Queen Anne all the time for shows, but for some reason I very rarely make it to the top. So I took a bus, aiming for Kerry Park, a place well known for its good views of downtown Seattle. Being unfamiliar with the area, I got my bus stops mixed up and rode too far, so I ended up walking through Kinnear Park, which gave a nice view of the Olympics and the Sound.

kinnear3 kinnear4

There were a bunch of these trees with bright pink flowers that were really pretty.

View from Kinnear Park kinnear5

Views are great from Upper Queen Anne. The architecture is really nice, too… not just the super modern condos that you see elsewhere.


house1 View from Kerry Park

Walking from Kinnear to Kerry, I walked up through some really pretty upscale neighborhoods. Lots of BMWs, Lexuses, Mercedes… and a small house on sale for $929,000! The noon light wasn’t the best for facing east, so I snapped a quick photo and walked up Queen Anne Avenue in search of food.

 television tower church

Walking up the hill, there was quite a bit to look at. Lots of pretty, old houses, a picturesque church, and one of those gigantic television towers that is easily visible from my condo (about 10 miles away). I also passed a bunch of restaurants that I know about but have never eaten at… Betty, How to Cook a Wolf, and Emmer & Rye. (Particularly interesting to see Emmer & Rye – the chef, Seth Caswell was the chef for the Outstanding in the Field dinner I attended last year. His restaurant opening was delayed by a LOT, but it looks like they are finally open now!) I need to get to this neighborhood for dinner more often! I also passed some cute shops, but my growling, hill-weary stomach was telling me that I  needed to find lunch first.

I was in the mood for sushi, and I knew of Ototo Sushi up there, but it appeared to be closed for lunch. Across the street, however, was Chinoise Cafe. When it comes to Asian food, I’m wary of any restaurant that tries to serve multiple cuisines, whether it’s East-West fusion or “get all your –ese foods here.” This placed served Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, kimchi fried rice, and yam fries. Right. Well, in the end, I didn’t have anything to complain about. They had outdoor seating, so I got to enjoy my sunshine, and I did appreciate being able to eat salad rolls and sushi rolls at the same place.

food1 food2

Shrimp salad roll, spicy scallop roll, and negihama roll.

After lunch, I did a little shopping, admiring pretty $16 boxes of notecards at gift shops, then decided that I needed to sit down indoors for a little while. Queen Anne is home to one of those great tea places that the Eastside can’t seem to hang onto. Teacup Cafe, a non-frilly cafe that focuses on serving tea as much as it does on selling it.

tea1 tea2

The tea came on a cute tray with milk and sugar. The cafe also had a fireplace. It seems like the charred sticker on it renders the text unnecessary.

Finally, the sun had moved enough to where I decided it was time to head back to Kerry Park. It was crowded, as expected, but the view was nice, with Mount Rainier peeking out in the background. There was some sort of puzzle hunt going on in Seattle, and one of the stops was here. The participants had to get makeup put on their face, put on a veil, and get their photograph taken at the viewpoint. I think all of them were guys, and the people doing the makeup were particularly mean/untalented.


View from Kerry Park, both with and without the crowds.

  line to piroshky

After that, it was time to take a bus back downtown with just enough time to grab a piroshky at Pike Place Market before things started shutting down. Since everyone and their dog was out running around, the line was really long, but it’s worth it. Sadly, they were out of my favorite, the potato, onion, and cheese, but beef and cheese is a reasonable substitute. Add one last stop at the Perennial Tea Room, and that’s a pretty good Seattle day.