— Jenny Neill

Jenny’s A-to-Z of Travel: N Through T

Part 3 in this meme is long overdue. This part of the alphabet took me back to one of my honeymoon destinations, looking under the ocean’s surface at night, and riding the single-rail tram while playing tour guide at home.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in:

I don’t often stay in hotels when traveling. I tend, instead, to opt for bed-and-breakfasts or small, independent inns. I like these for their character, their home-cooked meals, and the chance of interacting with other travelers each morning.

If I remain in one locale for more than a couple of nights, I’ll rent “home away from home” lodgings. Paying a little less per night than I would for a hotel in urban settings plus having a kitchen helps me stretch those travel dollars for my “splurge” items.

Hotels, though? The Banff Springs Hotel, one of the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, was the nicest I’ve ever stayed in. It’s also the closest I’ve come to spending the night in a castle. My husband arranged for us to spend one night there nearly 15 years ago as the first stop on our honeymoon.

View from our honeymoon suite at the Banff Springs Hotel

View from our honeymoon suite at the Banff Springs Hotel

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?

Wine labels. Or what pro photographers call establishing shots. Both types of photos serve as memory aids for me, much like my notes when I return from a trip. These are not photos that I’d publish, even here. I use them to jog my memory for when I sit down to write about them later.

A sampling of wine label photos currently stored on my iPhone includes:

  • Littorai, 2008, “Les Larmes” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Mike and I shared this bottle as we watched a parade of ants trail by at a popular restaurant on the Big Island in Hawaii.
  • Arnaud Ente, 2005 “Les Santenots du Milieu” Volnay 1er Cru. A Pinot Noir, from Burgundy of course. We drank it at RN74 a mere few days after the Seattle location first opened.
  • Clarendon Hills, 2004, “Romas” Grenache. An acquaintance I met at the Specialty Coffee Association of America convention in Portland last month blind-tasted the group who had gathered for dinner at El Gaucho on this wine. Most were certified coffee tasters. I was the only sommelier. Guess who came the closest to guessing country of origin and grape?

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?

I’ve received no stamps for crossing our northern national border because I have an enhanced Washington State driver’s license. So, on my current passport, I have none. I’ve only been to Canada since getting a new one.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where:

Two places vied for placement in this category: The Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, CA and another California tourist trap, the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. I visited both in my early 20s on family trips to northern California. All of us Neill kids were old enough to be skeptical of the “vortex” claims in Santa Cruz by then.

Missy walks the plank at the Mystery Spot

Missy walks the plank at the Mystery Spot.

Perception may play some tricks on the eye in the Mystery House, but who can resist tales of curses, ghosts, and a widow compelled to keep building 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for nearly 40 years?

Where is the Door to Nowhere? Courtesy of HarshLight

Where is the Door to Nowhere? Courtesy of HarshLight.

Spiritualism and séance are certainly part of the Sarah Winchester story. But, it’s doubtful any visitor is getting much accurate history about Mrs. Winchester on the official tour. Like many attractions designed to lure travelers with the promise of a sensational story, her life has been distilled to sound bites easily recited by guides. And, just this month, with the announcement that Hammer Films was granted permission to produce a movie based on the legendary mansion, those ghostly tales may soon become even more dramatic.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience:

I’ve tried a number of tours and excursions in the past couple of years that were new to me: whale watching in Victoria, BC; travelling to and from Victoria on the Victoria Clipper; beachcombing along the western edge of West Seattle in search of starfish during a low tide. The one I recommend above all of these? Go snorkel with the manta rays in Kona.

Two manta rays feeding, courtesy of Mike Russell

Two manta rays feeding, courtesy of Mike Russell

S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking out money for while traveling:

I may scrimp on accommodations while I travel. I have yet to fly first class. What I will splurge on, every time, is eating a multicourse lunch or dinner of regional cuisine. Even better? Drinking like the locals do with the meal. Tea, coffee, juice, wine, or harder beverages—I’m game to explore through imbibing.

The end of one course in a multicourse meal, courtesy of Mike Russell

The end of one course in a multicourse meal, courtesy of Mike Russell

T: Touristy thing you’ve done:

Last month I played tour guide to Seattle for my cousin and his wife. They were visiting our area for the first time and wanted to do some of the classic tourist activities. Of the lengthy list we prepared over days of emails, we did one thing together that wasn’t on the list. We rode the Seattle Center Monorail from the Space Needle to Westlake Center.


Monorail track exiting Experience Music Project Museum, courtesy of Dan Thompson.