Friday, September 16, 2016

Chapter 6 - Coeur d'Alene - almost perfect

We had never been to Idaho or that part of the world. Coeur d’Alene is listed in the 100 Best Places to Retire book, and I recalled my mother talking about how beautiful it was, although I can’t recall if or when she might have gone there.  In researching the location, it seemed as though housing values were better than any of the other places we had considered, and while the climate is a bit iffy, we thought we’d give it a try.

To get to Coeur d’Alene from Dallas/Ft Worth takes a bit of doing. Coeur d’Alene has an airport, but it has no scheduled service and is for general aviation only.  The capital of Idaho, Boise, has non-stop service from DFW, but it’s four hundred sixty miles away from Coeur d’Alene.  The airport of choice is Spokane, Washington, about a forty-five minute drive from Coeur d’Alene.  So we booked flights to Spokane, through Phoenix.  This is an old US Airways or more likely America West route, not a traditional American Airlines route, and the service is reminiscent of US Airways, meaning very minimal. Our connection in Phoenix was pretty close, but I decided to risk it because the chance of bad weather in Phoenix was small. Actually, they had bad weather the day before our trip.  We had to walk a considerable distance to our Spokane gate, getting there five minutes before they started boarding.  Phoenix is very busy.
Pacific Southwest Airlines livery on an American jet - PSA was one of the companies that made up USAirways, which American merged with recently.

Spokane’s airport is pretty small, but they have five major carriers - Delta, United, Southwest, American, Alaska.   We had to walk what seemed like forever to get to the rental car location, and they do not really have Hertz #1 Club Gold service, although there was no wait at the counter. Our car was some kind of a Hyundai, but it ran well and sipped fuel.  The drive over I-90 to Coeur d’Alene was uneventful, except I noticed that no one was speeding.  Everyone drove exactly the speed limit.  When we go somewhere we’ve never been, I try to stick to the speed limit until/unless the local drivers show me I don’t have to.  This time they were showing me I had to.  Before we crossed into Idaho, we saw two motorists who had been pulled over by unmarked patrol cars, making me think not speeding was a really good idea.

We stayed at a La Quinta in Coeur d’Alene, where hotels seem to be pretty pricy. I was not expecting a lot, but was pleasantly surprised. The room was quite comfortable, and the included breakfast was pretty good, although you had to have some patience with the toaster. The hotel was ‘pet friendly’, and we saw some really big dogs. There were also families with small children, who were running up and down the halls above us, but they settled down before bedtime. Our room had a view of a defunct water part.  The weather while in Coeur d’Alene ranged from upper 30’s to 80 or so, mostly from 40’s to 60’s. We could not have asked for better weather.

Our first evening we ate at an Italian restaurant nearby, Tomato Street, which was a huge operation with lots of customers.  It was the Idaho equivalent of Olive Garden.The food was really good, but the portion sizes seemed to be designed so that you would take home leftovers.  It was just of highway US 95, which, we learned, is the road you try to avoid when driving in Coeur d’Alene.  The lights are long and the traffic can be formidable.

We had contacted a realtor, Kevin Bennett, via a web search. I sent him information about what we were doing and what kind of house we thought we might like.  He was really nice and set us up with the MLS service that most realtors use these days, so we could pick through and find what homes we would like to view.  We (meaning Jody) picked out ten or so and sent them to Kevin.  But before we got there, a bunch of them went to sale pending status.  I had rejected a few listings for no reason other than they were more expensive, so we reinstated those.

Our first full day, we identified on Zillow a few homes to look at, just from the car, as a way of learning our way around. Coeur d’Alene is a small community and it takes no time to get anywhere, We found a couple of properties that didn’t look too promising, and wondered by accident across one of the ones we were going to see with Kevin. The owners were there, taking out huge quantities of trash and recycles.  They offered to let us have a look.  The house was pretty nice but a bit tired. The owners had moved to assisted living and were looking forward to not owning a house, and were happy to show it to us.

We also wandered down to the lake, in the morning. The lady at the La Quinta had told use about the free parking available downtown, and we parked there.  The lakefront is absolutely gorgeous, no doubt about it. Hardly anyone was there, just a jogger or two and some dog walkers.  It was a bit nippy, probably in the low 50’s with a bit of a breeze.  We also wandered around the downtown area, looking at all the quaint little stores that weren’t open yet.  We went to the Visitor Center downtown and in addition to clean toilets they had tons of information about the area and nearby areas, and some blurbs from various restaurants.  I picked up a couple that looked vegetarian-friendly. 

Lake Coeur d'Alene

We ate lunch at one of those restaurants, Pita Pit, part of a local chain, which was a bit tricky to find.   It was in a strip shopping center near a mall.  They make pita sandwiches to order.  You have to be more involved in the process than I was expecting.  It had a wide variety of veggie options.  In nearly every eating place we visited in Coeur d’Alene and in all the places around it we visited, there were decent vegetarian options.  Jody was pleased.

Our first impressions of Coeur d’Alene were that it was absolutely beautiful.  There is not a speck of trash to be found anywhere; there is no graffiti; the people are friendly and impeccably polite. We had heard that there were more gun shops than gas stations in Coeur d’Alene, and while we did see gun shops, there were a lot more gas stations.  The area is booming and the housing market is very active.

Fish tacos at Seasons
We found our way back to downtown for dinner, at a place called Seasons of Coeur d’Alene, supposedly featuring whatever was seasonal. It has a very busy bar and a not so busy restaurant. 

Grilled cheese

We ate at the restaurant and were pleased. People in Coeur d’Alene are just so nice.

The next day (Saturday) we met with Kevin Bennett from the Coldwell Banker Schneidmiller Realty.  Kevin took us to see eight different homes, plus the one we had stumbled on the day before. We liked them all, although a couple of them were too much for us to handle due to the size of the lot or a storage unit the size of an airplane hangar.  We saw homes with natural gas stoves, heated by natural gas, but with air conditioning. Lots of open floor plans and all the new stuff we are looking for. One or two of them had sickening paint jobs, but it’s just paint. Kevin explained about the different areas, about how Coeur d’Alene is booming, how the different localities cooperate on educational and development projects.  Lots of volunteer opportunities all around, and non-existent crime rate.   One home in particular, in the Hayden Lake area, north and a little east of Coeur d’Alene, appealed to us, although it was a bit distant from town.

After our tour, we had lunch in an excellent place near Kevin’s office, called Rivelle’s River Grill. I had some pulled pork sliders, unlike anything I’ve ever had.  Sloppy but good.

During the morning I had noticed that a pain I had behind my left ear was getting worse. I had this problem on and off for years and it had not been diagnosed.  I decided to go to an Urgent Care place, which was near our hotel and part of Kootenai Health, the big medical center in Kootenai County in Idaho.  They took me right away, accepted my insurance, and after a few minutes I was being examined by a doctor.  I thought I might have an ear infection, but he determined that I had an inflamed and probably infected salivary gland, back under my jaw, which could easily be taken for an ear infection.  He called in a prescription to the pharmacy across the street. I went over there and they addressed me by name before I could say anything, and I had my medication in a few minutes.  The whole medical event lasted 90 minutes from walking in the door to Urgent Care to walking out the door at Rite Aid.  I have to say, I was impressed.  And everyone was very nice.  At this point Jody was ready to move and I was not far behind.

The next day (Sunday) we had nothing planned, so on a whim we decided to add another state to our list of states visited.  Coeur d’Alene is not far from Montana, and it is 177 from Missoula, about which I knew nothing except it was mentioned in “I Miss You So Badly”, a song by Jimmy Buffett.  Off we went.  It was an amazingly scenic drive, through the woods and over the mountains.  Absolutely gorgeous.  Minimal traffic on a Sunday, but some very significant construction zones.  I am guessing that in the mountains they have to get road work done during summer.  Once we reached Montana, we found another thing we had not seen before – 80 mile an hour speed limits.  

65 for trucks was a joke.

I-90 is a road which is very winding, through valleys cut out by the Clark Fork River (after the Clark of Lewis & Clark), and the road is in bad shape at some points.  So you are driving around sharp curves, on a rutted highway, and you are going 80.  Well, not for long.  I slowed down until that road straightened out, and it wasn’t like I was holding anyone up.

Missoula is hardly a tourist attraction.  We found a place to eat lunch, walked around the riverfront a little, and left. Jody drove back, so she could experience life at 80 mph.  Our little Hyundai was not really built for it, though.

That evening we went back to Seasons for dinner, and had a completely different experience. They were short staff and we could not get anyone to seat us in the restaurant. Jody talked to someone in the bar, and they recommended we eat in the bar (same menu available) because we would be forgotten about in the restaurant. I guess this illustrates a problem about Coeur d’Alene. It is booming to the extent that there aren’t enough young people around to take the entry level jobs.  At any rate, we ate in the bar, and I stuck to a burger, figuring that was a safe choice in the bar, which it was.

The next day (Monday) we checked out of our hotel, and decided to try to look at the one house we had really liked in Hayden Lake, and to try to find Costco, and to look at some of the new housing developments that have sprung up in Hayden and in Post Falls (just west of Coeur d’Alene).  We managed all of those.  The new housing places are very nice and we liked one of the floor plans, but most of them are much larger than we would like.  Prices are cheap, about 2/3 of what they are in the DFW area.  We found Costco, and even there gas prices are 50 cents/gallon higher than Texas. Costco had some different stuff – lots of heavy flannel shirts, and gun safes.  We don’t see those here.

We had lunch in a Mediterranean restaurant in Post Falls, called White House Grill. But, unlike Dallas, in Idaho Mediterranean means Greece, not Turkey or Lebanon.  The gyro was excellent.  They have belly dancing on Thursday.  We were leaving Tuesday..

We drove to our next hotel, a Courtyard in Spokane.  We had a very early flight on Tuesday morning and didn’t want to miss it, so we got a little closer.  Spokane has a really nice park along the river, where they had some sort of an Expo in 1973 or so.  

Along the river in Spokane

It was popular with strollers, joggers, skateboarders, and, sadly, bicycle riders,  So you have to be careful.  That night we used the river walk to get part of the way to a restaurant, called Saranac Public House, on Main St.  It was busy, but service was excellent and the food was quite good. And I finally hit 10,000 steps on my Fitbit for the first time in a week.  

We went to bed on the early side, and set the alarm for 5 AM, but consoled ourselves by considering it was 7 at home. We drove to the airport and took a while to find a gas station to top off the rental, and there was a back way into the airport which made returning easy. The Spokane airport has the best marked rental car return in the world.  We were really early.  We walked a considerable distance to the second terminal where American and Alaska are the only two airlines, and while there were kiosks, there were two absolutely bored looking agents at the American desk, so we went over there to give them something to do.  The agent who waited on us congratulated us on going through Phoenix instead of Seattle, which I guess is what some people do.  I just knew a connection in Phoenix would be more dependable than a connection in Seattle, due to the weather in the two locations.  Spokane does not really have TSA Pre-Check – they fake it with the standard lines.  But they did not care about my TSA compliant corkscrew.

Our flight home was uneventful, but we may need to reconsider these mid-week departures and arrivals, because we drove home from DFW Airport at the height of the evening rush hour.

The conclusion is that we liked Coeur d’Alene better than any other place we have been.  So far, we have visited:

·      Port Townsend, Washington
·      Sequim, Washington
·      Sun City, Georgetown, Texas
·      Robson Ranch, Denton, Texas
·      Port Saint Lucie, Florida
·      Fort Myers, Florida
·      Mount Dora, Florida
·      Ukiah, California
·      Fort Bragg, California
·      Mendocino, California
·      Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

The place we like best is Coeur d’Alene, but we did not go at the worst possible time, which is mid-winter.  So that is a consideration.  Other considerations about Coeur d’Alene are that it does not have an airport, and Spokane, 45 minutes away, has a nice airport, which claims to be international., but by ‘international’ they probably mean Canada.  Another is that it is far away from any of our families.  And finally, if you Google ‘Indian restaurant Coeur d’Alene’, it comes back with some in Spokane Valley (Washington) and some for that other kind of Indian.

We're not done looking, but we have a new leader in the clubhouse.