When you’ve spent nearly two decades of your life in one place, it’s easy to become jaded with your surroundings. To you, they may seem rather commonplace, perhaps even downright boring, even if you’ve never really taken the time to explore.
I grew up less than 10 miles from Leavenworth, Washington, a town with a population around 3,000 that sits in the foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range. It was settled by pioneers as a logging community in the early 1900s and the Great Northern Railway Company laid tracks through the town, bringing with it commerce and job opportunities. When the rail company re-routed their tracks and pulled out of Leavenworth, the city was sent into an economic depression that lasted nearly 30 years.
In a last-ditch effort to improve their circumstances through tourism, community leaders decided to give the entire city a Bavarian motif–every commercial building in Leavenworth is now modeled after the adorable cities of Germany’s Bavarian Alps (McDonald’s and Starbucks included). And apparently this odd-ball idea worked; Leavenworth was recently mentioned on a list of some of the world’s most beautiful small towns and attracts nearly 2 million visitors per year.
To me, it’s always just been Leavenworth–that kitschy little tourist trap where our parents took us to play putt-putt golf as kids or to look at all the pretty lights around Christmas and where people were always running around in lederhosen for no particular reason. I definitely still think of it as a tourist trap but it’s hard to deny the beauty of this little town that really does make you feel a bit like you’ve suddenly been transported to Central Europe.
I wanted to spend a day being a real tourist in Leavenworth, enjoying all the things I’ve never allowed myself to enjoy simply out of principle (it was our rival town, after all–the little chewy, nutty candies of my real hometown of Cashmere never could compete with German beer and brats). I convinced my friend Jennifer to come with me to experience Leavenworth from an outsider’s point of view; she was the perfect companion for a day of copious beer drinking and pretending to be Seattleites.
We started our day around lunchtime and headed straight for the bratwurst. The München Haus serves up a variety of sausages that you can then bury under flavored mustards, onions, relishes and apple cider sauerkraut. The outdoor seating is perfect for a hot summer day, and we purchased giant beers (served in 1-liter steins) to wash down the brats in true German fashion. I have to admit, finishing everything was more of a struggle than we’d anticipated, but we did it.
Post-bratwurst, we headed to Studio 1890 to stuff ourselves into corsets for an old-time photo shoot. This is definitely one of those ridiculously touristy things I’d normally never do in my own town, but it turned out to be pretty hilarious, especially after a liter of beer each. First, we took some dressing room selfies…
…then giggled through a 20-minute session testing out as many silly poses as we could, using Jack Daniel’s, pistols, shotguns and thigh flasks as props, among other things. We got a colorized version and a sepia-toned version of each photo on the CD we purchased, as well as a 5×7 print of our choosing.
After our photo shoot we ducked into one of the many winery tasting rooms and, with a little sweet-talking and Jen’s “industry” status (as an employee of another winery in the area), scored ourselves a free tasting; we then browsed the extensive selection of gourmet cheeses and German snacks and beer at The Cheesemonger’s Shop.
I left with a 1/2 pound of some delicious fruited cheese whose name is now escaping me, and a bar of bacon chocolate. Yes, you read that right. Why am I no longer a dietitian? Because bacon chocolate.
The last item on our day’s agenda was a trip to the local brewery, the Icicle Brewing Company, to soak up the late afternoon rays and share a sampler of 6 different craft beers–not that we hadn’t tried them before (their beers are sold in just about every drinking establishment in the entire valley), but we like variety (and I wasn’t kidding about the copious drinking).
All in all, it was a very successful day. We came, we drank, we conquered. Then we went home and passed out around 9pm.
But more importantly, I discovered some interesting things I never would have noticed I without the help of my tourist goggles. For example, as we meandered, I spotted a Thai flag flying above one of the shops in town; upon wandering inside, I discovered that the jewelry was handcrafted in Chiang Mai. I generally think of my part of Washington as depressingly homogeneous, so it came as a nice surprise (and a funny coincidence) to find Chiang Mai-ers in Leavenworth. I also stumbled upon a cafe that will be perfect for hanging out with my laptop and a coffee when I need to get some work done, and got lots of lovely photos throughout the day. It was nice to gain a new perspective and be reminded that there’s always plenty to explore, even in my own backyard.
“What an adorable little town!” -Every tourist ever.