Although I’m a frequent traveler aboard the Amtrak Cascades from Everett to Vancouver, B.C., I had never thought to make an overnight stop in Bellingham on my way up to Canada.
Why did I wait so long?
My friend Sandy and I caught the train in Everett on a blustery Thursday morning. We were off on a two-country adventure, and were as excited as if our itinerary read Paris-Versailles-Zurich.
OK, it was Everett-Bellingham-Vancouver. But we were on the train. And traveling by train is an adventure in itself, bearing no resemblance to driving on I-5.
I always travel business class on Amtrak, especially when going to Canada. Not only do you detrain first, meaning you go through Canada Customs and Immigration in Vancouver first, the cars are also quieter and you receive a $3 coupon to be used either in the dining or bistro cars.
There are also electrical outlets and complimentary newspapers in business class.
As much fun as it is to eat in the dining car, I usually just grab something from the bistro car, which features items such as soup, salad, sandwiches, bagels, cookies and coffee drinks, and bring it back to my seat.
You’re also welcome to bring your own food onboard.
And don’t forget to ask the train steward for an Alaska Airlines mileage card – you’ll receive 150 miles for each leg of the journey on the Cascades route.
It seemed we had just settled in with our newspapers and breakfast when “Bellingham” was announced as the next stop. It was 9:45 a.m., and it took us just a little more than an hour to get here. Since there were no taxicabs waiting, Sandy and I went inside the Amtrak depot and used the complimentary phone to call a cab.
Within 15 minutes, we were checked into The Chrysalis Inn &Spa in the old Fairhaven neighborhood of Bellingham and met our friend, Victoria, who was joining our girls’ getaway.
The Chrysalis Inn &Spa is the most luxurious hotel in Bellingham. It’s a contemporary lodge design, with plenty of glass, slate and wood and a large fireplace in the lobby. Each of the 43 rooms has a view and a window seat overlooking Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands, along with a gas fireplace and king-size beds with Frette linens and down comforters.
Oh, and earplugs. But more about that later.
It was time to explore Fairhaven, a short walk from the hotel. The Fairhaven Historic District is known for its wonderfully preserved buildings from the 1890s. Today, it’s home to the southernmost terminus for the Alaska Ferry, and its streets are lined with inviting shops and restaurants.
First stop was 12th Street Shoes, featuring contemporary and comfortable styles for both men and women. Nearby is the cleverly named Three French Hens, “A Boutique For Chicks,” owned by Bonnie Donaghy. This is a shop for women, carrying jeans, lingerie, body and bath products, and housewares.
I can’t resist the smell of fresh flowers, and Rebecca’s Flower Shoppe is the real deal. I walked in, chatted with owner Rebecca Wiswell, and took a long, deep breath of springtime.
We decided to have lunch at The Abbey Tea Room, tucked into a side street. The tea and presentation were just fine, but the tea sandwiches weren’t my favorite. They were much too large and the white bread was cold, as if the sandwiches had been refrigerated.
Skip the sammies and have sweets instead. The little lemon tarts were nice.
What a surprise to meet former Everett residents and Wicked Cellars owners Jeff and Edalyn Wicklund. The couple moved to Bellingham in 2005 and opened Purple Smile Wines in Fairhaven.
They’re enjoying their new venture.
“There’s always wine on the counter!” Edalyn Wicklund said.
They offer weekend wine tastings from noon to 5 p.m.
Other Fairhaven merchants arrived, including Chuck Robinson, who, with his wife, Dee, has owned Village Books for 27 years. They moved to larger digs two years ago, but are still a Fairhaven landmark, as is the adjacent Colophon Cafe &Deli.
After sampling some fine wines and making a few purchases, we headed back to the inn. With rare blue skies on a winter’s day, I wasn’t ready to leave the fresh air, so I walked down Taylor Dock from the inn.
Pilings in the water mark the spot where two warehouses and the Pacific Steel Works Can factory once stood in the late 1800s. The dock opened for public use in 2004 and now it connects with Boulevard Park and the South Bay Trail.
If you keep heading north, you’ll gradually bump into downtown Bellingham, about two miles away. Right at 3 p.m., a Canadian Pacific freight train rolled by on the tracks between the waterfront and the Chrysalis.
The earplug mystery is solved!
I continued north along the trail with joggers, babies in strollers and snugglies, dog walkers, and folks soaking up the rare winter sun.
I love a hotel or inn with a spa, and Chrysalis has a dandy. It offers a full range of services from half-hour treatments to full-day options. I had the Chrysalis “raining water massage,” an intense 30-minute massage accompanied by warm water pouring down from an overhead shower ($65).
That evening, my friends and I enjoyed dinner at Fino, on the lobby level of the inn, overlooking the water. The three of us supped on small-portion entrees, fine wine and friendly service.
After a good night’s sleep for me – no ear plugs needed – we enjoyed a complimentary European breakfast buffet and took a cab to catch the 9:44 a.m. Amtrak Cascades to Vancouver, B.C.
Train hopping is too sweet!
Sue Frause is a Whidbey Island freelance writer and photographer. She may be reached through her Web site at www.suefrause.com.
If you go …
Chrysalis Inn &Spa, 804 10th St., Bellingham 888-808-0005; www.thechrysalisinn.com; rooms begin at $175; spa rates run from $65 for a 30-minute massage to $100 for a 60-minute contour wrap, with a variety of packages that include treatments such as manicures, pedicures, massages and scrubs.
Amtrak, 800-872-7245; www.amtrak.com; a one-way coach ticket from Everett to Bellingham runs about $15; business class is $11 more.
Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism, www.bellingham.org.
Fairhaven Historic District, www.fairhaven.com.