Wednesday, June 1, 2011

From Paris to Bear country - A series - Part 2

Is there more to Woodinville than rural living? Peut-être (maybe). If you read the last post you may remember the Woodinville Chamber of Commerce website states: “[Woodinville offers] rural living in an urban setting.”

Not to disagree with the Chamber of Commerce, but the town scores more points in the rural living/outdoor recreation category than in the urban setting department.

Downtown Woodinville (a.k.a. “the town center”) is a collection of strip malls surrounding a large parking lot, anchored by “the Golden Triangle”: a grocery store, a Target store, and a movie theater. If you want convenience (and many people appreciate to be able to run errands in one hour with just a few stops), then this is the place for you. If you want character and charm, fuggedaboutit.

Woodinville town center: cars...

... and more cars
Where are the restaurants? The fun and distinctive shops? The quaint buildings? The small town charm mentioned in brochures?

In fact, I move for Woodin-ville to be renamed Woodin-lot or Woodin-place next year. The sooner, the better for a true ville, to this French girl, it is not.

Before some of you go up in arms, hear me out, s’il vous plaît.

I was duped you see.

Before I ever came to the United States as a college student in 1984, I watched countless American movies and TV series; read numerous American novels. They all taught me this single truth (which I took as self-evident): Even though American towns can be quite different from their European counterparts, they still offer quaint and welcoming downtowns. Imagine growing up in Europe, and watching Little House on the Prairie for years. Remember that charming little town, Walnut Grove, MN? Remember the lively streets, the shops (Olsen’s Mercantile,) the feeling of community?

The Ingalls were lucky to live in Walnut Grove, MN
Garrison Keillor described the ideal American town in Lake Wobegon Days. Nostalgic pieces about American small town life are published on a regular basis. In fact, I could keep listing books and movies that relentlessly promote an idealized vision of small town USA. Even Walt Disney immortalized the Main Street concept in his theme parks.

Main Street USA yesterday...

Main Street USA today...

Main Steet USA immortalized by Uncle Walt

I am telling you again. I w.a.s. d.u.p.e.d. When I moved to Woodin[ville] eleven years ago, I was robbed of the quintessential lively, pedestrian-friendly Main Street I had taken for granted. We all know what I found there instead (see above.)

Not all is lost. Please take note. The French love arguing, but they can also be fair. Illustration:

Woodin[ville] boasts a unique garden center, Molbak’s, complete with a well-stocked gift store, classes and workshops, seasonal events and a popular café. This wonderful place has often cheered up Woodinville residents on rainy winter days. There is no better place to be in Woodin[ville] during the Holidays when all is cold, grey and wet outside. Magnificent Molbak’s.  Please don’t ever leave!

That’s not all. Woodin[ville] also has a world class restaurant, the Herb Farm, one high-end hotel and restaurant complex, the Willows Lodge, and the ever-popular Redhook Brewery and its lively restaurant, patio and summer outdoor movie nights. Interestingly, none of these fine establishments are located in the town center. Once one hits downtown, attractive food options dwindle, unless one does not mind patronizing fast food chains and family restaurants (Check out the town center selection here.)

The Herb Farm : a nine-course Northwest dining extravaganza

The Barking Frog (Willows Lodge),
a favorite lunchtime destination of mine
I think you get my point. Urban design is not Woodin[ville]’s forte. This would fine with a lot of people, if the town had not started advertising aggressively its new status as a major tourist destination over the last few years. What are tourists meant to do here once they have made the obligatory stop chez Molbak’s? Why, drink wine, bien sûr.

Woodin[ville]’s “upsurge as a unique winery destination” (according to the Chamber of Commerce,) started in 1976 with the opening of Chateau Ste Michelle. The oldest winery in Washington state, Ste Michelle was built on the expansive grounds of a country home that had once belonged to a Seattle lumber baron, Frederick Stimson. Chateau Ste Michelle quickly established itself as one of the world’s leading producers of Riesling wine. It did not stop there. Over the years, a gift shop, a wine club, and popular culinary events were successfully launched. Today, Chateau Ste Michelle’s influence can’t be ignored. One of its most inspired introductions to date: The outdoor amphitheater where renowned artists and musicians perform during summer months. Most concerts are sold-out events. For locals and Seattleites alike, a summer concert chez Ste Michelle is one of summer’s “can’t miss” events. Please, Chateau Ste. Michelle, don’t ever leave!

Bienvenue au Chateau Ste Michelle

Elegant and peaceful Chateau Ste Michelle

A true tourist destination. Notice the amphitheater in the background

Wonderful Summer Concerts Series
Over the years, many wineries, large and small, followed in Chateau Ste Michelle’s footsteps and opened tasting rooms in the valley.

Official records vary but it is estimated that 75 to 90 wineries are currently based in Woodin[ville]. I will take their word for it since most are hidden from sight.  As a French native, I find it a little strange to be surrounded by so many wineries without ever seeing a single vignoble (vineyard.) That is because most grapes are grown in Eastern Washington. They say humans can take weather conditions on this side of the Cascade mountains, but grapes can’t.

France's Burgundy region: vineyards as far as the eye can see.
Tasting rooms have been burgeoning all over town. Move over Napa and Sonoma valleys. Woodin[ville] now boasts its very own Wine Country, inaugurated officially in 2002. One of the most popular events is Passport to Woodin[ville], a wine tasting extravaganza scheduled in the spring.

Tasting rooms...

More tasting rooms
One strip mall. Four (out of many) wine tasting rooms.
Food option? A Mexican chain restaurant.
Tourist buses traveling from Seattle are a common sight these days. To accommodate the influx of vehicles, the city of Woodin[ville] has extensively remodeled a major intersection. Three consecutive roundabouts were built over a year ago. Not just any roundabouts, mind you, award-winning ones! Sadly, you risk your life every time you drive through them because some people don’t seem to notice the 200+ “Yield” signs strategically located all over the roundabouts. A logical conclusion is that Yield signs are not part of drivers' Ed. classes in the United States.

Three award-winning roundabouts:
Safer from above?

The largest of the three Woodinville roundabouts,
"Stonehenge" by a friend
I would argue that the worst possible time to use the new Woodin[ville] roundabouts is on Sunday afternoons, when the wine-tasting crowds get back in their car and try to get home. These guys are dangerous because 1. They are, by then, officially buzzed. 2. They have no clue how to drive on a roundabout 3. They are s.t.a.r.v.i.n.g. and can only think about one thing: “What did we leave in the fridge?”

As I explained at the beginning of this post, food options are limited in town so the poor out-of-towners’ best bet is to head home and have left-overs. But wait: There is hope after all. Look what I found today, and this one is opening downtown. In-cro-ya-ble!

Big Fish Grill, we will have you, whatever you are!

I apologize if the previous post was a bit more uplifting than this story. Who would not want to visit the amazing Woodin[ville] outdoors scene I depicted? It was straight out of Little House on the Prairie, non?

“What about those bears you mentioned in the title?” you ask.

Let’s just say this is an episode that would not have happened in this French girl’s old Parisian neighborhood. A couple of weeks ago, a bear was spotted in a nearby town, then at a local junior high.The school was evacuated as the sheriff searched the premises, shotgun in hand (this part alone must have delighted 8th and 9th grade boys.)

Finally, the bear was captured. How? It was chased up a tree by a 3lb teacup poodle named “Little Schmoopie.” You don’t believe me, do you? Do you think I am like Garrison Keillor, making up stories? Look it up if you don't believe me. It’s all here. If it is in the media then it must be true, n'est-ce-pas?

A bientôt,


  1. Fun reading about Woodinville from a French girl's perspective. I always wondered where the centre ville was and now I know that there isn't one!

  2. Very funny and entertaining. I always learn something reading your blog!

  3. Margie-- Now you know the BIG Woodinville secret! ;-)
    Cherie-- Merci beaucoup. Believe it or not, I, too, learned beaucoup de choses while researching Le Blog's posts.

  4. Ahh Little house on the Prairie, happy memories. I did not think, they had roundabouts in the States, they seem to prefer intersections, most Americans seem to struggle with them when they come to Europe, especially l'Arc de Triumphe, always amusing! Roundabout education most definitely needed!

  5. Thank you for visiting and for your comment, Dash. It's true, there are not that many roundabouts here, at least on the West Coast. I must say Woodinville has made it even more challenging by adding three back to back! As for the Arc de Triomphe, I can honestly say driving there should scare anyone in their right mind. My brother is the only person I know who will go around it twice (with his sister -Moi- screaming next to him with her eyes closed) "just for fun!"

  6. Great read! I'm in the south of France visiting my mother but have to go back soon to the father land in the southwest. I always end up missing the centre ville big time! =) moi.

  7. Thanks for visiting Sandy. I have just left a message on your blog. I can't believe our different our worlds are... Here I am, in the chilly and rainy Pacific Northwest and you live in the middle of the desert! Let me know what you thought about Southern France.

  8. My first visit to your blog and I found it delightful. This little town of yours looks very pretty. I have been to Seattle a couple of times but we stayed in town - I had read about the wineries. I also took a quick look at your posts in French and I’ll come back to read them when I am caught up reading all my friends’ blogs as I rarely hear any French around here (near Atlanta.)

  9. Merci Vagabonde (what a pretty name) and welcome! There is a special place in my heart for Atlanta where I studied in college 25 years ago as an exchange student. I need to go back soon and make sure "my American family" still recognizes my son when they see him. Come back anytime and do let me know what you think about the posts en francais.

  10. v- this was SIMPLY incredible...again i say to you WELL DONE!! i just love your presentation of information on such various topics and your own take on them. i cannot express how i ENJOY time spent here...the blog looks great...the comments are also nice reading and your fan base is growing...and to think i'll be able to say i "knew" her when...SERIOUSLY-just GREAT!!enjoy your weekend and hope to be reading again REAL SOON. thanks for all the time and effort from one very grateful reader.-g

  11. g. -- Thank you, as always, for the encouraging words and enthusiastic comments. I do believe you are right: my fan base is growing. I am flattered, and happy, as i am meeting pretty cool people along the way, and discovering great blogs at the same time. I am off to Europe soon and will be posting during the trip. This has become a bit of an addiction I must confess. Bon weekend to you too. Come back soon.

  12. Too funny! My LOL moment: "BigFish, we will have you whatever you are! SO TRUE!"

  13. Dear Elana-- Amen, sister. Hope Big Fish is open by the time I get back.


Bonjour! I love hearing from you, my readers. To quote a fellow blogger, my friend Owen, "Comments are the icing on blogcake... Comments are the UFO in the twilight sky bearing news from other planets... Comments are raspberry vinegar in salad dressing... Comments are the cool balm of after-sun moisturizing lotion... Comments are the moment the band comes back out onstage to play an encore... Comments are the gleam in the eye across the room in a smoky bar... Comments are the rainbow after the rainstorm..." Merci for your comments! French Girl in Seattle