Friday, December 17, 2010

A non-traditional Thanksgiving

As everyone must know by now, I love Thanksgiving. But, I am not beholden to a single Thursday in November to celebrate it; in fact, I’m fairly indifferent about its specific date. So when Robyn suggested an out of town retreat I jumped at the idea of a few days of R&R.

Of course, only a crazy person would fly over Thanksgiving break so we searched for a local option and came up with the Bonneville Resort on the Columbia River. Bingo! We booked ourselves for 3 nights and several spa treatments and patiently awaited our mini-break.

There was some temporary concern when the storm hit that we wouldn’t be able to make it out of the city, but luckily by Wednesday morning the streets were more or less OK and the freeway was free and clear so we got out without a problem. Along the way we made a random stop in Kelso to go on a wild goose chase for a UPS store that the iPhone promised us would be there, and it was. Not two hours later when we stopped for groceries, of course, there was a UPS next store. We also hit up Five Guys Burgers, my absolute favorite fast-food-but-not-fast-food place that has magically migrated here from the east coast. By the early afternoon, after some gorgeous scenery along the way, we pulled up to luxury itself – 3 days with nothing to do.

I wasn’t sure what to expect since you can never tell in pictures what a hotel will really be like and it seemed as if it might have a 70s flair, but I was pleasantly surprised. 70s flair aside, the hotel itself is quite grand – I’ve never seen such a majestic room (outside of Vegas) OR such a giant fireplace. Here is the view from our room:

After getting settled in we made our way down to the spa for our 4:00 appointment: a mineral water and essential oil bath followed by a “wrap.” The bath rooms are quite sweet, with deep tubs separated by screens in dimly lit rooms. After 30 minutes of soaking we were ushered into the wrap room, where we were tucked within an inch of our lives into hot blankets, a cool towel covering our eyes. It sounds so simple, yet it was probably the most enjoyable spa treatment I’ve ever had. We left there moving about 10 times slower than when we went in, and lazed in our robes in the tropical pool room for a solid hour before heading back to our room and going to bed by 8 pm.

The next morning was Thanksgiving and we started it off right with mimosas in bed. Then we went downstairs to the most unexpectedly wonderful surprise: FREE BUFFET BREAKFAST. I’m not talking about some dinky little continental affair; this was a full-blown feast including coffee, juice, fruit and oatmeal, bacon and sausage, potatoes, and the best parts of all, an omelet station AND a waffle station. Free. Every morning.

Sometimes we’d look at each other with a gleam in our eyes and we’d know we were thinking about free breakfast. In fact, that free breakfast was such a great deal that we managed to spend almost zero money on food, having brought groceries with us for most meals. The only time we dropped any cash was on the Thanksgiving meal itself. But that’s later… after The Bridge.

I had done some scouting on things to do in the area and came upon what sounded like a promising description of some nearby hot springs. Also nearby was the Bonneville dam, which Robyn was not as into touring in the freezing weather as I was, but it was pretty cool to look at from afar:

Anyway, we decided that on Thanksgiving we’d venture out to check out these hot springs 20 minutes away. We bundled up...

...and off we went further east through several one-horse towns until we came to the Carson Hot Springs Resort. It was a wee bit, how shalle we say, dilapidated?

We went into the main building and asked a bored but pleasant man where the trail started. We didn’t reveal our plans since it was a gray area whether or not it was legal to access them. He pointed us behind the hotel and we started the mile hike across partially frozen but otherwise easy terrain. The directions we were following were sketchy at best but we did manage to find the suspension bridge mentioned:
Yikes! The river was thundering beneath us and we were both terrified to cross, so of course we had to, yelping like scared baby animals all the way. Here is the view from halfway across:
Once on the other side we saw the ‘piece of string’ alluded to in the shady directions which was really a rope and started a very careful scramble across some frozen rocks. When my water bottle fell out and crashed 20 feet to the ground below, and when I saw that after these rocks were more rocks, even more frozen and even more vertical, we very wisely surmised the danger and backed up out of there. (This was one of the many times I have been grateful to be a level-headed, non-thrill-seeking woman.)

Back across the bridge we went, where we encountered two locals who informed us that to get to those hot springs you actually have to scale a vertical wall and that the best way is via raft or other water vessel. I wanted to track down the idiot who wrote the original instructions and tell him what a moron he was, but then again I was the moron who was basing my experience that day on a stranger’s vague description, so I didn’t have anyone to blame but myself.

Safe and sound at the end of the trail we applauded our sound judgment – AND our crossing of the bridge – and started back, stopping to cross the Bridge of the Gods, kind of a lofty name for this unimpressive overpass:
It cost us $1 each way and we were surprised to find that we were in Oregon on the other side, though if we’d stopped to think that we were on the Columbia it probably wouldn’t have come as a shock (like I said, spa life had slowed us down some). We stopped and had sandwiches with a flock of geese, crossed back over the bridge, made our way to the hotel, and sat by the pool for several hours reading before it was time to feast.

Imagine, if you will, a Thanksgiving in which you neither have to cook nor clean, coupled with unfettered, unlimited access to all your favorite dishes: this is the beauty of a gourmet Thanksgiving buffet.

We went back for seconds and thirds and had more than our fill of Thanksgiving classics: requisite turkey, potatoes, and stuffing; green bean casserole made with fresh green beans; tons of veggies and salads and soups and cheeses; and a good variety of pies (which some a-hole next to us actually had the gall to say was a 'thin selection.' Really, guy? How many kinds of pie do you NORMALLY have on Thanksgiving?) There were also non-traditional items like prawns (which we did some damage to) and a prime rib (which we didn't touch). We ordered a bottle of champagne which they let us take back to the room with us, tub and all. Here I am after dinner posing next to our favorite place in the hotel, the "area of rescue":

It was another early night for us, though I stayed up watching Avatar for the first time. I was glad I hadn't wasted any money on this lame adaptation of Pochahontas in the theaters. And don't try to tell me that the 3-D was worth it - I'm so sick of 3-D! It gives me a headache after 20 minutes.

The next day was Friday and we had a soak, wrap, and massage scheduled for the afternoon. As wonderful as all that was, there was something magical about our Wednesday soak and wrap that just couldn't be beat. Afterward we went to the pool, books and robes in tow, and spent some more quality time doing more nothing. There was a hot tub outside called the 'pool of tranquility,' and since it had snowed it was fun being outside in the frozen white landscape engulfed in steaming hot water.

By Friday evening I was getting a little restless - so much nothingness can be tiring! - so we did something a little more active: played UNO for about 2 hours. Not surprisingly, we were in bed early.

Saturday we woke up to our final free breakfast and our final swim in the pool, and we were underway by check-out at noon. My car was covered in snow, which I removed using a tennis racket randomly kicking about in my car. (Note to self: get an ice scraper.)

Snow-covered car aside, the weather was once again on our side and the roads were clear. The views were gorgeous and we stopped at Cape Horn to get some pictures. I love this one because it's hard to tell the difference between sky, cloud, fog, and water:

Of course I had to snap a shot of the Matrix for posterity. This car is going to have quite the photo album:

We got back to Seattle on Saturday evening at about 5 - virtually no traffic! - and spent the night chilling out in our respective apartments before reuniting for one last Thanksgiving weekend event on Sunday: the Christmas Tree farm.

Robyn has gone to the Carnation Tree Farm for the last 5 years and this time I was her guest of honor. I didn't get a tree - the saw is just for the picture - but I did get some garlands which are lovely hanging over my French doors, wrapped in white lights.

Here is Robyn loading up her mini-tree:
Although I love my family and love spending holidays with them, this was a happy and restful way to spend the long Thanksgiving weekend. Hip hip, hooray!

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