To hop in a car for several voluntary hours of back sweat, lumbar discomfort, and a numb coccyx, for the reward of finding some quaint little podunk where all the houses have American flags, all the signage is burdened with extra apostrophes ("No Public Restroom's"), and all the motel rooms smell like come and cigarettes is not my idea of a vacation. It sounds more like my old job. From a musician's perspective, my esteemed colleagues' recent travels to South Bend, Soap Lake, and Mazama look like every day in the life of a touring band, minus the only thing that makes the day bearable. A road trip without shows? I'd rather get tested for chlamydia.
So, when I drew the short straw and had to man up with a Road Trip adventure, I applied my time-honored curmudgeon vacation formula: Find the closest place that feels out of town and get the cheapest luxury hotel room I can find (thank you, Priceline!), preferably with a Jacuzzi tub en suite. Welcome to Snoqualmie, home of the Falls, and of the Salish Lodge, where, thanks to some deft bargaining by my heroically patient wife, we got a great break on a room that normally goes for $300 a night.
The edifice is a combination of grand scale and chintzy taste; it's new yet drab, and everywhere you look, there's another photograph of the same old waterfall. Big deal. After the brutal 35-minute car ride, the frigid blast of conditioned air in our cavernous room was most welcome. We didn't stay long, however. We had a goat cheese lecture to catch.
Upstairs, in the library, the director of food and beverage was holding forth on the finer points of goat cheese appreciation. Because his address was already underway, our entrance was noted with circumspection; we tiptoed to the cheese table and cut generous hunks of the various chévres, and helped ourselves to warm bread, red grapes, and a healthy dose of complimentary Merlot. Awkwardly, the only seats were behind the speaker, placing us in the direct sight line of everyone in the room. No matter; even from the rear, Mr. Paul Wolman was a compelling orator, with a rich, buttery French accent. The lecture was not without controversy, however: Wolman exhorted us to write our congressional representatives and urge them to change the laws governing cheese importation. Apparently, none of us has ever tasted true Brie or Camembert due to legal restrictions governing raw milk-based products. After four plates of ripe fromage and four glasses of excellent wine, I was ready to storm the capitol. And I would have, too, but it was time for my massage.
Massages are problematic for me because I feel a mixture of pity and sorrow for anyone who has to (a) see or (b) touch my body. Also, I hate being smeared with oil. Also, the dirty little secret about massages is that they are incredibly painful, especially if, like me, you store 25-30 years' worth of guilt, sadness, and tension in whatever sorry excuse for musculature you may possess. But I know I'm supposed to like it, so....
My LMP was patient. After my fifth apology for the discomfort he was causing me, he laughed sadly and said, "Stop apologizing. This isn't something you should have to endure." Easy for him to say. During the interminable 50-minute session, when I wasn't busy fretting about my humiliatingly low pain threshold, I fretted about my work, my family, my career, my advancing age, my finances, my past, and my future. Still, when the $90 rubdown ended, something miraculous had happened: I was relaxed (or pummeled into submission, anyway). I pulled some clothes onto my now-slimy body and retired to the chilled bedroom to make a dinner plan.
It didn't take long to find a restaurant in nearby North Bend, because "in town" consists of about four blocks. We settled on the Italian place, Robertiello's, and were swiftly seated on the patio, where our server, Rick, greeted us with a hale and hearty "Ladies!" Though seemingly embarrassed by his mistake--he's hardly the first to think I was a girl--he nonetheless proceeded to upsell us on everything from drinks to dessert while the PA blared "Mambo Italiano" and other goombah classics. The food was very good, and the overheard conversations--"Open Water? I'm not dropping $20 to see people float in the water for two hours..."--even better. And finally, when Rick brought the credit card slip, he smoothed things over with a personal touch. "Thanks a lot, Stan," he said.
After a sound sleep, we checked out of the lodge and took a cursory look at its famous attraction--literally, as we were pulling away: "Oh yeah, maybe we should go see the waterfall." It was okay. We ate breakfast at Twede's Cafe, home of the Twin Peaks Cherry Pie, as well as a lot of cheesy faux-'50s décor and airbrush paintings. Our little getaway seemed to be drawing to a close. That's when we spotted the knight on the tourist map and discovered that even when you aren't looking for it, the kind of adventure that makes road trips memorable can sneak up and tap your shoulder with its two-handed broadsword.
The Discovery Map of Snoqualmie Valley breaks down dining options by category--American, BBQ, Brewery, Chinese... and hello: Medieval. The Bors Hede [sic] restaurant, with its promise of a "summer faire," lay 15 miles northward in the Camlann Medieval Village just outside of Stillwater. As we passed through the portal into the enchanted glade of the "faire," a man whose modern oxford shirt peeked over the edges of his tunic explained that we were entering the year 1376. King Edward III sat on the throne, and the Black Prince had recently died, leaving Richard II as his heir. Chaucer was the most celebrated author of the day, and the Plague haunted the land. Two adults? Nine dollars each, please. And in we walked, past carpenters, metalsmiths, and other artisans dressed in loose costumes (available for rental) and speaking with fake British accents to a sparse assembly of tourists in T-shirts, shorts, and shades, pushing baby carriages and gripping Coke bottles.
My wife and I shuddered, and not just because the jester/magician in the village square bore an eerie resemblance to my father. We'd both spent many childhood hours at renaissance faires (I know, I know), and this one, for all its earnestness, wore a dusty coat of sadness. After an hour or so of handcrafted blades, madrigal plainsong, and the world's sorriest petting zoo (two sheep, one mule), I couldn't stop wondering how a remote medieval village in Snoqualmie Valley related to the 21st century. The joust wasn't for hours, so we decided to cut our losses. On the way out, I nodded goodbye to oxford shirt guy, who was talking to the bedaggled jester. I asked how long the village had been in operation. Oxford shirt guy waited a single beat and said, "628 years, squire."
It was time to go home.
Directions: Take I-90 E to exit #25, Highway 18/Snoqualmie Parkway (about 16 miles from Bellevue). Turn left. Driving time: 35 minutes.