Mini-vacation: Olympia, where there is a pretty capitol building and entirely too many spiders

Undoubtedly one of the best things about working for the State of Oregon was the furlough days. Mandatory three-day weekends once a month? Sign me up. I didn’t get paid vacation time anyway, so it hardly hurt my financial situation to have one unpaid day off each month.

Alas, I had my last furlough day last weekend. If I want time off at my new job, I gotta ask for it.

I wanted to take advantage of the long weekend, so we decided to take a mini-vacation up to Olympia. Anyone who’s lived in or around Washington for a while might find that a little odd, and you’d be right. Olympia turned out to be a weird choice. However, we had a few reasons for going there. We’re still hoping to move out of Salem and maybe even Oregon sometime in the near future. (Now that I’m re-applying for grad school, that may not happen after all, but one thing at a time.) Since western Washington is generally pretty rad, but also pretty expensive, we decided we should scope out the Olympia/Lacey area. I’ve lived near Seattle most of my life, but have never spent more than a day or so in Olympia. Hence, a vacation with purpose.

Turns out Olympia has two kinds of people: retired folks who support Rossi, and hippie Evergreen students. I’m not sure how they all manage to coexist, or what happens when you throw in the Catholic kids at St. Martin’s University in Lacey. I think if you gave me a map of Olympia, I could chart out where each groups’ holdouts were. The Evergreen kids have a solid grip on downtown – it’s packed with grungy coffeeshops, used book stores, and tattoo parlors. The white-collar and/or retired folks have occupied the malls and filled them with Ann Taylors and Coldwater Creeks and Chicos. They also left space for their offspring, who seem to have a variety of Wet Seal-esque shops to visit during school lunch break. The retirees, meanwhile, have taken over one entire peninsula and packed it with retirement communities.

The peninsulas were actually a lot of fun to explore.  I’m used to Lake Sammamish, which has always been stacked three deep with megamansions.  Around Olympia, though, the houses are older and modest.  Some of them have significant acreage, and it’s clear they’re used for horse pasturing.  Most of the time, you can’t even see the houses or the water – the forest is still thick and wild on both sides of the road.

And on the tip of one peninsula, we discovered the Olympia Golf & Country Club, which turns out to be absolutely the most gorgeous place to get married ever.  Except maybe Hawaii.

Unfortunately, they charge $1,800 in “social membership fees” if you want to get married there and you’re not a member.  My heart, it is broken.

The other surprising thing about Olympia is that it has more of a metro area than I had expected.  I think we crossed the borders of Tumwater and Lacey two or three times each day without realizing it.  We spent a good portion of Friday evening crossing I-5 in search of the mysterious brick ruins of the Olympia Brewing Company, which is located in – yep – Tumwater.  I’d seen the building several times while driving back and forth to school, but I didn’t realize you could get close to it until I spotted a photographer’s blog, in which he tested a new lens on the site of the ruins.  So Kevin and I went through a very scientific process that involved studying Google Maps and plugging addresses into the GPS that seemed somewhat close-ish to the site.

Well, just before the rain set in, we found the place.

I wish we had been able to get closer, but we never found a way to get around the lake.  We did find one bridge, but…well…it was occupied.  By spiders.

Maybe this is a Pacific Northwest phenomenon, but around late September, we get a sudden infestation of spiders.  Not little spiders or spindly daddy-longlegs or anything like that – big, fat, spiky, stripey spiders with huge abdomens and gigantic webs.

And they nest everywhere; for example, in the holly and other brush around this particular bridge.  Kevin, who is not at all fond of spiders, hung back as I began to count the webs on just one side of the bridge.  As the number passed five, he backed up even further, and by the time we’d reached the final count – 11, in about 6 cubic feet of brush – he was on the other side of the path.

I don’t blame him one little bit.  These are big freakin’ spiders. Bringing in the garbage cans at home was always a challenge this time of year, because the spiders would set up a gauntlet of webs spanning the hedges on the side of our house.  I always had to run through waving a broom around to clear them out, and then drag the cans through backwards while wearing the all-important hood to keep the little creeps from falling down the back of my neck.


Anyway.  We drove a little further north to the other brewery ruins, the ones that were abandoned in the early 2000s.  These aren’t nearly as scenic, but they do boast a hatchery and a couple bridges over the falls.

The hatchery was pretty fun to watch.  There’s a building in the back left, which is the fishes’ final destination – a big pool where they all flop around and presumably wait to be relocated to spawning grounds.  But to get there, they have to swim up a gigantic ladder, which starts way down at the bottom of the falls and proceeds up under the grates in the sidewalk.  It’s a pretty neat design, much more user-friendly than the Issaquah hatchery, that allows visitors to watch fish progress every step of the way.

There were a few macho fish that hadn’t quite figured out the ladder, and they kept attempting to jump the falls.

We also had a lot of fun on Saturday exploring the farmer’s market with Tess.  We ended up not staying too long on account of being followed around by a creepy guy, but we grabbed lunch at the super tasty Iron Rabbit, where you can get enormous, delicious burgers, bread pudding, and local beers.

Next stop, the Capitol building.

Of course Tess still manages to look adorable even during a dorky jump shot.

St. Martin's University

This is the awkward tailless cat who lives at the Alderbrook Resort. Really, he's not that fugly, he's just incredibly unphotogenic.


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