Insightful Travel Tips #1

By Michael Carignan

After every two or three travel articles I plan to look back on those previous trips and expound on some background information that may be helpful in planning future trips.

Great Britain & Ireland

Our trip to Great Britain and Ireland was pretty much planned all on our own with some help from watching a number of travel shows and reading several travel books about the area.

Planning one’s own trip to a region unfamiliar can be challenging. On this trip finding lodging was fairly easy as was the car rentals and ferry travel. For car rental or ferry connections recommend making reservations ahead of time in case some weird quirk of nature hits such as the volcano eruption we experienced.

One thing I would have done differently on this trip is I would not have driven myself. Roads are narrow, demanding a great deal of attention while driving. Add to that the driving on the opposite side of the road also takes some getting used to and t all can be very dangerous. If you do drive limit the amount of driving done each day to something reasonable. Do not push it. Remember you are there to sightsee and if your focus is on the act of driving you’ll miss much of what they came to see. Do not drive around big cities if tired. Remember traffic is heavy and driving on the opposite side can be confusing and if not alert, deadly.

If I were to go again I would hire a driver just like the ladies from Chicago did and then sit back and enjoy. Yes, you’ll pay more for the trip but the amount of enjoyment goes up double what you pay.

Another thing I would do differently relates to car rental insurance. Unfortunately we were involved in a minor traffic accident while in Northern Ireland and had to pay to repair the damage to the car. Auto insurance you have in the U.S. is only good for travel in the U.S. One thing that many people don’t realize is that if they have a Visa credit card they are covered under a policy Visa provides to its customers free of charge. Coverage, however, is not included when traveling in seven countries around the globe. I don’t remember all seven of the countries in which that applies, but I do know the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales are five of them. Do your research and know whether you’re covered where you travel and if not take out the insurance policy the car rental place offers.

We did find out one other thing while in Ireland. You cannot buy simple products such as ibuprofen over the counter at department stores in Ireland. We stopped at a Tesco to do just that, and discovered those kinds of pain relievers are only sold at pharmacies. Tesco is much like out Walmart in the U.S.

While Dawn went into Tesco to buy some ibuprofen I waited outside. I had my camera hanging around my neck and this gentleman spotted me. He worked in the store and was similar to a greeter at Walmart, I'm guessing. He spotted my camera and talked me into taking his picture. We talked a little. He was quite a card, but a nice guy indeed.
While Dawn went into Tesco to buy some ibuprofen I waited outside. I had my camera hanging around my neck and this gentleman spotted me. He worked in the store and was similar to a greeter at Walmart, I’m guessing. He spotted my camera and talked me into taking his picture. We talked a little. He was quite a card, but a nice guy indeed.

One final point on this trip: People are generally good and friendly. Most of them are just like you and I. Yes, there are bad people in this world and be on the watch for them. Be safe.

Washington’s Pacific Coast

Dawn and I are not big into staying in motels when we travel but would rather stay in a nice vacation rental. I am often asked how or where I find the places we stay in when we travel. We have used for several years now and last year, for the first time, used a site called Both are very similar as to how they work.

VRBO stands for vacation rental by owner. People who own houses, apartments, condos, whatever, can list their properties as vacation rentals. Typically they advertise a nightly rate, weekly rate or occasionally monthly rates. They list the amenities available at the property, provide photos of the rental, and many provide a calendar which shows the dates that are filled and the dates that are open.

To find a property with VRBO click on the state you plan to visit on the map of the U.S provided. Next click on the region in the state where you want to find lodging. If you know which city you want to stay in, click on that city or just cruise around the area until you find what you like. There are a wide range of prices and sleeping capacities for the rentals. Once you find a place to rent, find out for sure when it is open. If it’s a fit, book it. Each landlord has their own particular payment requirements.

Some people have expressed concern over being ripped off when using one of these sites but we have never had any problems. In fact, everyone we have dealt with have been great.

Occasionally you may find a place you want to visit that does not have any rental property available, as we experienced at Neah Bay. In that case visit the Chamber of Commerce for the place you’re going and check out lodging they have listed. If you simply type in the name of the community you want to stay at in a search engine such as Google it will come up with options for you.

Beware that Washington is Big Foot country. I was able to catch this one with my camera.
Beware that Washington is Big Foot country. I was able to catch this one with my camera.

One other thing I want to discuss about Washington is the activity of gambling. Dawn and I both enjoy doing a little gambling now and then. Slot machines, and horse and dog racing are our pleasure and not table games. Washington is a good place to visit if you like to gamble.

I have been traveling to Washington state for almost 40 years now and as long as I have been going there gambling has been legal. Many of the lounges or bars have game rooms in the back. These are privately own and just have table games like cards, dice or roulette. More recently casinos have become a big item, at least in western Washington. If the casino is owned by the Native Americans it will offer a full range of gambling with slots and table games and off track betting. If they are privately owned there may be just two or three slot machines in the entire casino and they are set up differently than the slots in a regular casino. Private casinos are like the game rooms in the lounges only on a larger scale.

Over the years we’ve visited a half dozen or so casinos around western Washington.

We haven’t stumbled on any dog tracks yet but on this last trip we did discover a horse track near Kent. We rented our car from a place in Kent and after picking it up when we arrived we were looking for a place to eat and instead found the horse track. The name of the track is Emerald Downs and actually it is between Kent and Auburn, Washington.

With our main objective being lunch, we didn’t stay long. Five races I think. As a remember it, both of us held our own in betting. It was a little disappointing in that the field of horses was small, with only six horses per race. I prefer a field of eight or more horses so there is some challenge to betting. With just six horses per race the chances of winning a sizable pot is not good.

The food we had was decent and the stop was a good way for us to get our feet back on the ground after our flight.

Gambling is a fun activity as long as you find truth in the words of a David Bromberg song, “A man should never gamble… more than he can stand to lose… shoot the dice.”

Along the Ocean in the Pacific Northwest Part 3

By Michael Carignan

Next morning we packed up because checkout was at 11 a.m. We bid Tom and Jan goodbye and Dawn and I drove north three miles to Kalaloch Lodge on Hwy. 101 to go to the gift shop and pay our respects to one of our favorite spots. Lodging there has gotten rather expensive so we haven’t stayed there in a while. When we arrived this time management had redone the gift shop and we didn’t find anything we liked or needed.

Next stop was Moclips with a brief stop off at Lake Quinault Lodge for lunch and a quick game of horseshoes. In a fluke, I beat Dawn at horseshoes. Usually she clobbers me.

Lake Quinault Lodge.
Lake Quinault Lodge.
View of Lake Quinault from the lodge.
View of Lake Quinault from the lodge.

Eventually we arrived in Moclips at our apartment. We discovered Moclips a number of years ago and on our second trip there we discovered The Beach House rental. The house has two one-bed efficiencies on the ground level. Both have a small kitchen with a dining area, a small full bath, and combination bedroom/living room. Parking and entrance on street side and a porch looking out toward the ocean. The sandy beach is just a 100 yards down the trail through the dune grass. There is a gas fire pit and a charcoal grill, picnic table on the lawn and a nice hot tub under the deck from the upstairs.

The upstairs apartment is three bedrooms and laundry room and baths toward the east and a nice kitchen and dining area and living room across the ocean side. In all, the upstairs sleep 12 or more.

One of the downstairs units was all we needed.

Moclips is in Grays Harbor County. It is slightly north of the center of the Washington Pacific Coastline, just south of the Quinault Indian Reservation on the ocean. It is a very small village with slightly 200 inhabitants.

Moclips is noted as the terminus of the Northern Pacific (NP) Railroad. When the railroad finished building its line, the owners of the NP decided to make Moclips into a getaway for the muckity mucks. They built a huge two-storey, 270 room hotel beachside near the mouth of the Moclips River with perfect ocean views. It was completed in 1907.

Business was booming at the hotel until 1911 when a series of tremendously strong storms hit Moclips. High tides, high water and high seas combined and washed away much of the sand the hotel was built on. Needless to say, the entire northern half of the hotel closest to the river collapsed in a crumbled heap. That kind of put an end to the booming tourist business in Moclips and the community settled back to the tiny little berg it is today.

The rental we stay in is only about a block south of where the hotel once stood. And this would be our home for the next five nights. We were there mainly to relax and visit some of our favorite places in the area and possible a few new ones.

We really only had four main things on the agenda for that time. One was to get massages from a masseuse we’d visited before. Another was to visit the Moclips Museum just to see what’s new. A third was to scout out places to stay or see on future trips, and lastly we wanted to spend a day crabbin’ somewhere. We accomplished our objectives.

Our masseuse is located in Aberdeen, about an hour’s drive from Moclips. Aberdeen is a city of roughly 17,000. Adjacent to Aberdeen to the north and west is the city of Hoquiam, with a population of nearly 9,000.

Aberdeen is built around Grays Harbor, mainly along the north shore but it also extends to the head of the bay and around a small portion of the south bay shoreline. Hoquiam is built along the northwest shoreline of the bay. These two communities have always struck me as being slightly depressed economically. I’ve never research it much, actually, so I’m not completely sure my assessment is correct.

Our masseuse has her office in South Bay Mall. The same highway, 105, that took us to South Bay Mall keeps on heading west along the south shore of Grays Harbor out to Westport where it turns south to Grayland and follows the Pacific Coast to the south before it finally connects up again with Hwy. 101 a bit inland from the coast.

Westport and Tokeland are two places we typically go to go crabbin’. We decided on Tokeland this trip even though it is the further away of the two. Dawn had heard of a new place to check out and it was more than halfway from Westport to Tokeland, so we figured we were in the neighborhood.

On the way to Tokeland we stopped at a beach Washaway Beach. It was a perfect place for Dawn to get some beach walking in. There was an awful lot of soft sand between the road and the hard sand beach so I walk where I could and Dawn took off to explore. While the view was great there wasn’t much in terms of shells or anything exciting along the beach.

The day was still young so after a brief stop we were back on the road to Tokeland. Tokeland is another small berg of less than 200 inhabitants. But, at the dock area by the fish market there is a public dock on Willapa Bay where, if you have a license, you can go crabbin’ there for dungeness crabs.

On a trip years before we had purchased a couple of crab traps that we store at Tom and Jan’s in Olympia… thanks guys. There are a variety of crab trap types. Ours are what is known as a pyramid trap. When the trap is open the base is square and the four sides of the pyramid lay flat on the bottom of the bay below the dock. Attach bait to the base to attract crabs. The traps are raised and lowered by a rope system. After leaving the trap on the sea bottom for 10 minutes or more we haul the trap up. When the ropes are tight, the pyramid closes, trapping any crabs that have come to feed on the bait. Basically for bait you can use anything that is meaty and odiferous. Believe it or not we used some chunks of sausage we had cooked up and had leftover. The crabs loved it.

Pyramid crab trap with bait attached and a crab hanging on.
Pyramid crab trap with bait attached and a crab hanging on.

While we were crabbin’ we had a visitor, a seal lion. He insisted on hanging around and posing for us. Although the sea lions and seals are seemingly friendly, they are wild and given half a chance will steal your bait right out of your trap.

Seal lion posing while we were crabbin' at Tokeland.
Seal lion posing while we were crabbin’ at Tokeland.

We trapped a lot of crabs, a couple hundred or more. But only a couple were anywhere close to legal size. Crabbers cannot take any females and the carapace of the crab shell has to be the width of a dollar bill or wider at its widest part. Even though we didn’t take any crabs home for supper, we had a great day out in the sun on the water.

We had appointments for late in the day for a massage so we headed back home with enough time allowed to get us to our appointments.

We spent a lot of our time in Moclips just kickin’ back and enjoying life. Dawn walked the beach a lot. I kicked back n the porch and in the hot tub, just relaxing. The beach goes for miles in both directions but to the north is reservation so hiking the beach there is off limits. But still there are miles of beach to the south for enjoying.

The beach is hard packed sand which makes for easy walking. The variety of seashells along the beach is not diverse. Mainly what you’ll find is predominantly sand dollars with a few razor clam shells, crab shells and an occasional steamer clam or cockle shell.

We did take some time one afternoon to visit the Moclips Museum and we also checked out the farmers’/craft market at Seabrook on Saturday. We also checked out some of the rentals at Seabrook. There were a number of nice places but nothing that really grabbed our interest.

A highlight of Saturday morning was visiting a sandcastle contest in Pacific Beach, another tiny community just four miles south of Moclips. On the one hand we were disappointed because there were only a handful of entries in the contest, but on the other hand the few that were there were magnificent.

One of the sandcastle entries that actually was a castle.
One of the sandcastle entries that actually was a castle.
A second "sandcastle" that was more of a sand artwork including a sea monster and mermaid.
A second “sandcastle” that was more of a sand artwork including a sea monster and mermaid.

On Sunday we attended church services at Chapel by the Sea. It is a nice, little Christian church that I would describe as non-denominational. We had attended services there before and each time the congregation was very friendly and accepting of outsiders, mainly because all of them are also outsiders of sorts.

After church we visited Taholah, a Quinault Indian community of about 900 people, about 10 miles north of Moclips. Being Sunday there wasn’t much open but this was our first real visit there so it was interesting.

Soon our stay was over and it was time to head back to the Seattle area, but first we stopped for a brief visit at The Evergreen State College, my alma mater, to buy a new t-shirt. Then a quick stop at Tom and Jan’s to drop off the crab traps and on to Kent where we would spend our final night.

We chose to stay in Kent, a southern suburb of Seattle for a couple of reasons. One – motels there were much less expensive than any near the airport, and two – so was the car rental. Kent is only 10 miles from SeaTac airport and our motel offered an airport shuttle. In all we saved over $400 by staying in Kent.