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Carless and carefree: Seattle to Bellingham

Marysville water tower.

Passing through Snohomish County aboard Amtrak Cascades. (Sue Frause)

I prefer road trips that don’t include me as the driver. And now with the gas gods scowling down on us, even folks who would never leave their beloved vehicles at home are opting for alternative ways to roam. Plus, lots can happen when you’re not behind the wheel. You can read. Listen to tunes. Eavesdrop. Take a snooze. Or see familiar sights with fresh eyes. My favorite way to travel to British Columbia is a combination of trains, buses, boats, and planes. This is the first in a series of my carless, carefree getaway to B.C. Depending on your time and budget, cut and clip as necessary.

I’m a regular user of the Amtrak Cascades that runs between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. Although the Spanish-built Talgo train set won’t be back in service until the end of 2008, the older Superliner coaches have both upper and lower seating. But unlike the Talgo, there’s no business class, on-board movies, or sit-down dining car meal service. The food offerings are limited, and they often run out, so think about bringing your own food on board. The train leaves Seattle daily at 7:40 a.m., arriving in Vancouver, B.C., about four hours later.

Last year, a friend and I decided to spend the night in Bellingham on the way north to Vancouver. We made reservations at The Chrysalis Inn & Spa, located in the nearby Fairhaven Historic District. Although the hotel is walkable from the Amtrak depot, we called a taxi from the station’s courtesy phone, since there were no cabs waiting outside.

The Chrysalis’ design is contemporary, with plenty of glass, slate, and wood and a large fireplace in the lobby. There’s an on-site spa that was recently renovated, and the hotel’s restaurant, Fino, is located on the lobby level overlooking the water. 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-sized beds with Frette linens and down comforters. Plus earplugs. But more about those later.

Fairhaven 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, including 12th Street Shoes (where I ended up buying a pair of reading glasses) and the cleverly named Three French Hens (A Boutique For Chicks). This is a chick shop, with everything from jeans and lingerie to bath products and housewares. My favorite stop is Village Books, an independent bookstore that’s been a community gathering place since 1980. It’s adjacent to the Colophon Café & Deli, a good spot for soup, salads, and sandwiches.

But we popped into The Abbey Garden Tea Room, tucked into a side street. The tea and presentation were fine, but the 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 sandwiches and have sweets instead. The little lemon tarts were tasty.

After lunch, we stopped by Purple Smile Wines, owned by Jeff and Edalyn Wicklund. I recognized them as the former owners of Wicked Cellars in Everett. The shop offers Saturday wine tastings from noon to 5 p.m.

Just down from the inn is Taylor Dock, which leads to pilings in the water that mark the spot where two warehouses and the Pacific Steel Works Can factory were located in the late 1800s. The quarter-mile boardwalk and restored trestle opened to the public in 2004 and 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.

And don’t be surprised to see and/or hear a train go by, day or night. The tracks are located between the waterfront and the Chrysalis.

The earplug mystery is solved.

Next: Back on the train to Vancouver

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