There is a darling Bavarian town in Washington state called Leavenworth. It is two hours’ drive east of Seattle, where we were staying at a hotel for two nights.
Well, the village at least appears Bavarian, though beneath the surface it’s not as authentic as one would hope. And as the years go by, it becomes more and more a purely tourist trap filled with overpriced gift shops and so many wine tasting shops. Still, it’s worth a look. I have been there often, mostly because one of my favourite wilderness areas has a trailhead just outside of town. But I had never seen it decked out for Christmas. Christmas, it turns out, is the peak time of year for this place.
Our plans were to arrive a little before sundown, so that we could go exploring and see the town in daylight, then not have much of a wait to see the town at night. I was looking forward to the Christmas light display. In previous years, Leavenworth had an official lighting ceremony, in which all the lights came on at a particular time each Friday, and stay lit for the weekend, so thousands would show up all at the same time and gather. This is clearly a bad idea during a pandemic. Their current policy is: lights on 24/7. That means people get to see them whenever they show up, and thus the crowds are much smaller. We arrived on a Tuesday and there was no crowd at all.
The area was heavily settled in the late 1800s when white people arrived to take advantage of the treasures here: furs, timber, and gold. When those resources were used up, the town had to come up with a way to survive. After almost becoming a ghost town, town leaders in the 1960s thought to take advantage of the atmosphere of the surrounding mountains and complete the Bavarian theme. The whole town was redesigned, and festivities were invented throughout the year, to keep people coming back. It totally worked. A million visitors a year show up here.
Today the entire town center has building restrictions that require new facilities to complement the theme. From the Safeway to the Subway and the 76, every building looks traditionally European from the outside.
We walked a couple of streets to get a good look at it, then decided to hike Waterfront Park while we still had a little daylight. It had snowed the day before, and a dusting remained on the trail. It was cold the whole time we were there, hovering around 30-31 degrees (-1 to -0.5 C). By the time we completed the park trails, we were ready to head back into town and find a warm place to sit.
After we finished our beers, we headed back out and now it was time for the lights. The sun dropped quickly and night advanced.
We were happy and satisfied. We climbed back into the Jeep, cranked up the heater, and made the drive back over the snowy pass toward Seattle.