A favorite (and mostly downhill) walk through Paris’ colorful Montmartre neighborhood

I recently sent the following to a family member. I can’t count how many times I’ve forwarded this to friends and family and it occurred to me (finally) that I ought to just post it on Wanderwiles. Et, voilà!:

Basilica of Sacré-Coeur


I always tell people that Montmartre is worth a visit and makes a great walk. A lot of people skip Montmartre because it’s more down-scale and crowded and has some steep walks, but it does have some of the best views and most classically Parisian locales and can be done mostly downhill if you follow the route I’ll set out. It’s not unsafe (I have a friend who owned a jewelry store there and loved the area), picturesque (beyond a certain grunginess) and charming in its own way. There is a large immigrant population in Montmartre, it’s the bustling fabric district of Paris, and it’s full of tourists and a fair amount of party-minded types in addition to merchants and the like, so expect bustling activity, noise and a colorful international vibe going in. Here’s my favorite route: read more

Incredible day whale watching on a boat out of Edmonds, Washington

Humpback whale tail

One of the many great opportunities afforded us while cat and housesitting in Edmonds, Washington, is the chance to observe the local marine life. Taking it a step further, Edmonds also hosts the only whale watching boat service in the Seattle area that runs through December, Puget Sound Express. Being whale enthusiasts, we made an outing with Puget Sound Express a top priority when we arrived for our 5-week housesit in Edmonds. With the luxury of being able to walk to the marina where PSE’s two whale watching boats moor, we watched the weather forecast and booked the first sunny, calm day. We chose a weekday hoping for a smaller crowd and had no problem booking a couple of days before, probably because mid-October is off-season.

Whale watching is always a matter of chance, but we really lucked out: Within 10 minutes of pulling out of the marina, we sighted the first humpbacks in the Sound between Whidbey Island and the Kitsap Peninsula. The highlight of the day, though, came when our captain pulled us up to wait facing a huge flock of seagulls feeding on the surface. We could see at least 2 humpbacks heading for the flock and the naturalist aboard told us the whales were coming to feed. The first that arrived, swam under our boat then swam upward into the flock to “lunge feed” just in front of us, its huge head out of the water, jaws closing on food. Seagulls scattered an swirled in every direction. Spectacular! I’ve gone whale watching before, but this was a nature documentary moment.

After that, we sped out to the Salish Sea, spotting sea lions on channel markers along the way and the occasional harbor seal. In the Salish, we spotted two pods of orcas hunting and socializing. We snapped photos of them with Mt. Baker providing a picture-perfect backdrop against a blue sky. What a day!

Orcas in the Salish Sea with Mt. Baker in the background

Although we could have ordered sandwiches, chips and a drink from Red Twig, a cute eatery a couple of blocks from our condo in Edmonds for $15 apiece, we packed our own sandwiches. (The strange and very handy hardware/grocery/deli hybrid Ace Hardware store on the corner of 5th Ave. and Walnut St. in Edmonds makes great sandwiches for half the price. They’re enormous, too. Half a sandwich is more than ample for me.) We were glad we brought our own when we saw the sandwiches provided: On generic sandwich bread, not what we’d expect from Red Twig. One lady we talked to was very disappointed. For $5.50, you can buy a ceramic “bottomless” mug offering refills from the galley of coffee, tea or hot chocolate. – Heavenly, after getting chilled standing outside watching whales. The ride in the speedy Chillkat (40mph+!) was surprisingly smooth and I was never in any danger of spilling a drop.

All in all, we were really impressed with Puget Sound Express, its boat, naturalist, captain, everything. The price is $135/adult and $85/child for a 4-hour whale watching excursion. The only glitch came pre-trip with some confusion over the meeting place as Puget Sound Express Whale Watching has two boats, the Puget Sound Express and the smaller (and faster?) Chillkat. We arrived early and waited by the Express behind Anthony’s where an email told us to go, but finally had to call when no one showed up. It turned out we were supposed to be further down at Dock D for the Chillkat. The lady on the phone was not clear on where we should be either and kept trying to send us in the opposite direction, but we finally found the right spot and boarded. (Someone told us the Chillkat is the boat they takeout on weekdays; no idea if that’s accurate.) We pulled out right at 9:32am and were back at 2pm. To book the tour we took on the Puget Sound Express website, click “Tours” in the drop-down menu at the top then “Guaranteed Whale Watching Tours,” then “Seattle Whale Watching Tours.” The guarantee is that you’ll get to go again if no whales are spotted, a good offer for visitors who can make use of it. PSE also offers tours out of Port Townsend on the Kitsap Peninsula as well as multi-day and bird watching tours.

Edmonds, Washington: A Pacific Northwest Charmer

Downtown Edmonds in the Bowl: corner of 5th Avenue and Main Street

As I mentioned in my last post, we’re spending five weeks cat and housesitting in Edmonds, Washington, a beautiful little town on Puget Sound just north of Seattle. Since our arrival in Seattle in late September, we’ve been blessed with one of the most spectacular autumns imaginable. The trees are on fire in shades ranging from bright yellow to deep burgundy and the skies have been unseasonably clear. We’ve been told Edmonds can get crowded in the summer–and no wonder, it’s got lots to offer in the way of charm, but it’s been delightfully crowd-free during our stay save for a blow-out, family-friendly Halloween street party.

The condo we’re in is in a lovely, well-secured building, although it’s hard to imagine needing security in this picture-perfect slice of Americana. The building opens onto one of the two main streets in “the Bowl” of Edmonds that dips down to the waterfront. Tree-lined, with a fountain in the middle of the intersection, pretty old-style buildings, this part of Edmonds reminds us of some idealized Mayberry. We’ve spent our days exploring the many boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops lining the blocks around us and walking to the water where we like to plant ourselves on a long, L-shaped concrete pier to watch the ubiquitous fishermen and people crabbing off the pier and the ferries shuttling between Edmonds and Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula. We take binoculars to scan the water for harbor seals, waterfowl and a bald eagle that has staked out a perch atop the mast of a particular sailboat in the yacht club marina, sometimes with a fish fresh-plucked from the Sound. Yesterday, we joined a small group at the end of the pier watching orcas swimming across the Sound, some so close to the ferry leaving Kingston that it was stopped for a while to let the orcas pass. I saw these magnificent sea mammals breach four times, leaping out of the water to fall back with a huge splash. What an unexpected treat! (See why we’re never without binoculars around here?) The Olympic Mountains provide the purple-blue backdrop to the peninsula and Mt. Baker looms off to the right up the coast. Gorgeous!

Salmon wind vane art on the jetty by the main pier with Mt. Baker in the distance

Edmonds hosts all sorts of events throughout the year. There’s a free monthly art walk every third Thursday, 5-8pm with local artists displaying their works in various shops and cafes. We just missed an annual writers’ conference the first weekend in October that I would have loved to have attended. The Halloween bash I mentioned was tons of fun with over-the-top costumes on children and adults and music playing on the main circle. Nearly every establishment on the two closed-off streets handed out candy. The local theater had a free “haunted theater” and distributed bags of popcorn afterwards. The bakery handed out donut holes. A local church offered free coffee and hot chocolate. The local history museum hosted a for-pay haunted house. There’s a holiday market scheduled to open and more throughout the year. Find a calendar of events on the Visit Edmonds website.

In addition to all the above, the Edmonds beer scene is pretty impressive for such a small town. There are two local breweries, Salish Sea Brewing Company (downtown and offering food as well) and American Brewing Company (a taproom), Brigid’s a great bottle shop offering local craft beer, and Gallaghers’ Where-U-Brew, a spot where you can brew your own beer or sample the house brews. I’ll see if I can’t get David to do a post on those soon. A local husband and wife own a craft spirits distillery by Brigid’s called Scratch Distillery that offers tastings and workshops where you can blend and take home custom spirits. Gin is their thing, but they’ve branched into vodka and whiskey as well.

Sunset view from Anthony’s Homeport in Edmonds

We haven’t found a bad restaurant in town, but can particularly recommend classic Anthony’s Homeport which faces the yacht marina and gets a great view of sunset over Puget Sound. We hesitated to try Mexican restaurant Las Brisas because we get plenty of that in Texas…but we don’t get halibut ceviche or halibut fajitas. Awesome! For cocktails, it’s hard to beat tiny, Paris-inspired Daphne’s. A single bartender mixes classic drinks while maintaining a constant banter with patrons perched around the bar, the only seating save for two small tables. Daphne’s seems to host a never-ending party. We hear chatter and laughter from Daphne’s whenever we walk by, day or night. Although we’d stuck our heads in a couple of times, we didn’t give it a try until last night. I loved the sidecar, a 1918 Ritz Hotel in Paris concoction of brandy, Cointreau, lemon juice and a twist. David opted for a “corpse reviver” from the Savoy Cocktail Handbook circa 1930: Gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, absinthe, lemon juice and a cherry. Delish!

There’s an extensive scuba diving park just off Bracket’s Landing Park beach by the ferry dock offering walk-in dives. There is also an excellent whale watching company, Puget Sound Express, that offers year-round boat excursions. We had an incredible day with them watching humpbacks (including a nature-documentary-worthy lunge feeding episode) just 10 minutes out into the Sound and orcas in the Salish Sea. I’ll post about that separately.

Oh yeah, travel guru Rick Steves calls Edmonds home, too. His headquarters is on 4th Avenue North where visitors can book tours, borrow travel books, view videos and do a little shopping for travel gear. He’s a popular native son, philanthropist and vocal proponent of legalizing marijuana.

Our sole criticism of Edmonds is the noise. Between trains, the ferries, seaplanes, trash and recycling pick-up, and amazingly frequent lawn care involving leaf blowers and hedge trimmers, this town needs to do something about the noise pollution. It’s really out-of-keeping with the clear care taken to keep the town immaculate and inviting. Nevertheless, Edmonds is more than worth a visit if you’re in the area and an easy drive from Seattle. It’s also a good base to visit the Kitsap Peninsula by ferry, take Boeing’s impressive Future of Flight tour in nearby Everett, take the ferry from Mukilteo to Whidbey Island, and many other local attractions. There’s only one hotel in the Bowl, the Best Western Edmonds Harbor Inn, and a few AirBnB apartments, but the Bowl is undoubtedly the charming heart of Edmonds.

Continuing Adventures in Pet and Housesitting

This sweet old girl patiently let me interrupt our walk to pose her with flowers. The autumn colors were just so gorgeous!

It’s been a while since I posted about pet and housesitting, but we’ve done quite a few since then (many repeats to much-loved Antwerp, Belgium) and we’re back at it, in Washington State this time. After spending two weeks in the Leschi/Mt. Baker area of Seattle proper caring for a sweet old Australian shepherd mix, we’re now weeks into a five-week cat-sitting stay in Edmonds, a charming waterfront community about 30 minutes north of downtown Seattle. We’re still trying to decide on where to settle long-term and Seattle and environs is an area we wanted to check out. It’s been a great stay and, as always, housesitting provides so much more insight into what day-to-day life in a place is like than some short vacation in a hotel or AirBnB.

We chose the Edmonds cat- and housesit many months beforehand, then decided more last-minute to do the earlier two-week dog- and housesit in nearby Seattle when David came across the posting on Trustedhousesitters.com and realized that their stay ended on the day we were scheduled to start in Edmonds. We figured, “Why not do both?” The contrast in neighborhoods has been really interesting and worthwhile. Both homes are very nice, our current stay being in a lovely and spacious condo in the heart of Edmonds with balcony, views of Puget Sound, gas fireplace, and radiant floors. The pets are sweet and add that extra home-like feel we love.

On the down side, we faced our first pet health issue rising to the level of needing a veterinarian visit with the Australian shepherd mix, Rowan, in Seattle. Although old, deaf and on medication for congestive heart failure, she’d been spry, eager for her walks, and my constant shadow in the condo. Out of the blue one night, her jaw started spasming making her teeth clack uncontrollably and really giving us a scare. We sat on the floor with her, stroking her head until it stopped, afraid she was having a seizure. WhatsApp messaging with her owners in Portugal was reassuring; apparently she’d had the same symptom some years ago and it was related to pain from an infected tooth. She had a history of tooth problems and was scheduled for a cleaning and check up the next week when her owners returned. They asked us to just keep an eye on her and let them know if there was a recurrence. Unfortunately, Rowan’s jaw began to swell the next evening and was so much worse the following morning that one eye was nearly swollen shut, red and weeping. This sweet dog didn’t complain, just laid her head in my lap, showing total faith that we’d make things better. Messaging with the owners confirmed their agreement that we needed to get Rowan to the vet. We were up early and ready to go by 8am Saturday when the vet office opened. I was able to get Rowan an appointment on an emergency basis, but not until 11am. When Rowan began to drool blood, we headed out early, deciding we’d rather wait in the vet’s office should she have some sort of crisis. Thankfully, we’d just rented a car so we could transport her, since the Seattle neighborhood we were staying in was not particularly pedestrian friendly. This is when it can be hard being a pet-sitter. You just have to do what you’d want done for your own pet and hope all goes well. It helped that we were on the same page with the owners and they were just worried about Rowan and sympathetic to our position. Agreeing that it was probably a tooth/gum infection, the vet put Rowan on strong antibiotics and pain-killers urging me to call immediately if she had any diarrhea or vomiting… So, of course, as soon as we were back home, David was in the shower, and I took Rowan to the park, she had watery diarrhea. We had about 30 minutes before the vet closed for the weekend and the last thing we wanted was to have to put a sick dog back in our brand new rent car and haul her to some unknown–and unfamiliar with her– vet-in-a-box, so we left her home, dashed back to her vet, picked up more medicine…and all worked out in the end.

I relate this story just to remind everyone interested in pet-sitting that there is the potential for crises, big and small, and you need to be prepared. We love pet- and house-sitting and we’ve had wonderful experiences and met terrific people and animals, but the benefits come with real responsibilities. With older animals, there’s always that nagging feeling in the back of my mind that everyone has to go sometime, but please, please, sweet dog or cat, not while we’re taking care of you!

Speaking of older animals, the two cats we’re now tending in Edmonds are brothers, 17 years old. They’re loveable, arthritic old boys whose mom has them on an interesting Washington-state-sort of regimen of hemp oil “pot drops” and joint medicine masked by dollops of souffle-style cat food. They also have a steady cloud of pheromone “happy gas” emanating from a wall plug-in. It made us smile, but whatever the owner wants (and is legal, of course) is fine by us. The pets we tend are bound to miss their people, so we try to minimize the stress by giving them lots of affection and keeping them as close to their usual routine as possible.

Movie time with one of our cat charges in Edmonds

Edmonds has turned out to be a fantastic place to housesit. It sort of reminds me of a New Englandy, Pacific-Northwest Carmel. It’s quaint and picturesque with a beautiful seafront, a ferry landing, yacht club, lots of good restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques within steps of our housesit … and an old, one-screen theater that’s actually still in business! I’ll do a separate post on this charming town later.

I’m still very happy with Trustedhousesitters.com  and arranged both of the above Washington stays through them. The site is well thought out, easy-to-use, security conscious and gets lots of traffic. If you use the above link, you’ll get a 20% discount and I’ll get a couple free months, so thanks to anyone who does. Learn more about the basics of pet and housesitting and other sites we’ve tried in my earlier post Pet and Housesitting: See the world like a local. While we intend to stay with Trustedhousesitters, I’ve come across a couple of other sites that are cheaper and may be worth a look. I haven’t tried them yet and can’t vouch for them personally, but for anyone who wants to economize a little more or just explore other options, you can check out MindMyHouse.com and Housesittersamerica.com.

A final note for owners looking for pet- and housesitters: While competition can be fierce for housesits in popular locations and nice homes, you do need to sell it a bit if you want to get the best responses. Photos of your pets are essential, but so are photos of where the sitter(s) will stay. Tidy up, if necessary, and at the very least post photos of the bedroom where your sitters will sleep, the bathroom they’ll use and your kitchen. Shots of the living area(s) and any view, yard, etc. are good, too. Without this basic information, we’ll assume the worst about the house and move on and so will most of the sitters you’d most want taking care of your home and pets.

November 2018