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Leavenworth, WA

If you’ve been following Tom’s new blog, the Foolish Flyer, you know that we spent last weekend in and around Lake Chelan in Central Washington State. Tom’s mission was the North Wing flying toy factory; mine was exploring new places.

After a spectacular drive through the Columbia Gorge and the Central Washington high desert, we finally got out of the car in Leavenworth, a valley village all done up in Bavarian style (pictured above).

Why Bavaria in the middle of Washington State, you may ask?

Back in the mid-1800s, Leavenworth was called Icicle. (Isn’t that a much better name?) It was a magnet for homesteaders, loggers, and the subsequent railway, with a roundhouse at the edge of town and a direct passage to Seattle over the Cascade Mountain Range. Fruit trees were planted, irrigation was arranged, and Icicle became a thriving community, renamed Leavenworth after the president of the development company that platted it. Saloons and brothels bloomed and boomed, and Leavenworth gained a bit of a bad rep. (Sharing its name with Leavenworth, Kansas — home of the infamous Leavenworth penitentiary — didn’t help.)

But the railroad switchyard moved on to Wenatchee, the loggers migrated to other forests, the Depression depressed everything, and by the 1950s the place was about to die. So in the early ’60s a faction within the Chamber of Commerce pointed to the most successful restaurant in town, which was Alpine in design. It looked good against the mountains around it. After a lot of quibbling, the town mandated that all the old brick buildings get a Bavarian facelift, including Starbucks and the MacDonalds, whose signs are done in a quaint Gothenburg font.

Today, the streets are packed with gift shops selling steins and restaurants serving beer in steins. An oompah band in lederhosen plays on the town bandstand. There are garden tours, holiday markets, Christmas lights, summer theater, a salmon festival, a town chorale, and bratwurst in biergartens. Personally, I like this sort of thing. It’s decorative, it’s fun, and it looks absolutely nothing like anyplace else around here.

On to Lake Chelan, a center for water sports and summer homes. We stayed at a sturdy green vaguely-Bavarian resort hotel called the Lakeside Lodge, with wonderful views and winter flowers abloom everywhere. The village of Chelan is down the road, and there we enjoyed the perfect Autumn Date: after a day of leaf-peeping, a warm, red Victorian bar with dark wood paneling, a glass of wine, and a dynamite burger. The setting was the 113-year-old Campbell House resort, which has grown from a single Victorian to two blocks worth of condos and hotel rooms.

Here in this green irrigated valley mid-desert is the apple capital of the world, or so says the local literature. We drove by groves of apple and pear trees, and the spotless huts of the people who harvest the fruit. The town of Chelan is 36% Hispanic, and the best restaurant is Las Brisas, packed with all races and creeds, in a storefront in a strip mall.

On the way home, we couldn’t resist a stop in the town of Cashmere, because of its name and our shared passion for the eponymous fabric. Cashmere (the town) is anchored by a dandy historical museum and mock pioneer village as well as the Aplets and Cotlets factory. Tom’s dad was a huge fan of Aplets and Cotlets, which are fruit leather-like cubes with walnuts, coated in powdered sugar.

The company was founded by a pair of Armenian immigrants fleeing a failed Seattle yogurt factory, which, in the early 1900s, was a century ahead of its time. They bought an orchard in the sunnier clime of Central Washington, but found themselves glutted with fruit already on the ground. So they used it to make a form of Rahat Locoum, a near-Eastern sweet they had loved as kids. Today, Aplets and Cotlets is still in family hands, and provides tours and free samples in their gift shop.

About the name Cashmere: we had seen goats around in the fields so our hopes were up. But no. In 1863 a Catholic mission was established here for the conversion of Indians. (Yes, they are called Indians, pronounced IN-DUNS.) The town was known as Mission until the railroad came through and told the citizens that there were already too many towns called Mission along the route. The mayor suggested Cashmere, after the Vale of Kashmir in India. The word conjures up such images of warmth and softness. So I’m thinking: Cashmere has no cashmere store. Business op!