Since my wife and I arrived in Portland 5 years ago, friends have suggested that we go to Walla Walla. In fact, it had turned into kind of a running joke, as we could never find a few days that worked for all of us, even in retirement. We’ve all been busy doing our own thing so the time had come to divide and conquer. Without any plans for my wife’s long Memorial weekend, the two of us made an impromptu decision over dinner last night. We’re going to Walla Walla.

It will take us about 4 hours to get there, as we discussed at Morton’s Steakhouse prior to seeing the School of Rock musical at Keller Auditorium.  We’ll be back there again in a few days to see Schitt’s Creek, a performance based on the cable television comedy series starring Eugene and Daniel Levy. In between times, we’ll be staying at the fabulous Kennewick, Washington Fairfield, Inn, one of only a few hotels in the area that would accept dogs. At least it’s a Marriott and was available for points. 

I referred to Wikipedia for a brief description of the historical significance of the seemingly odd sounding town, when in fact tourists to Walla Walla are often told that it is “a town so nice they named it twice.” It actually translates to “Place of many waters.” Here’s a little history lesson: 

“Recorded history in this state begins with the establishment of Fort Nez Perce in 1818 by the North West Company to trade with the Walla Walla people and other local Native American groups. At the time, the term “Nez Perce” was used more broadly than today, and included the Walla Walla in its scope in English usage. Fort Nez Perce had its name shift to Fort Walla Walla. It was located significantly west of the present city.” (closer to where we’re staying in Kennewick.

“On September 1, 1836, Marcus Whitman arrived with his wife Narcissa Whitman. Here they established the Whitman Mission in an unsuccessful attempt to convert the local Walla Walla tribe to Christianity. Following a disease epidemic, both were killed in 1847 by the Cayuse who believed that the missionaries were poisoning the native peoples. Whitman College was established in their honor.” (I seriously thought it was Walt Whitman all this time, but that’s just the poet in me).

“On July 24, 1846, Pope Pius IX established the Diocese of Walla Walla and appointed Augustin-Magloire Blanchet to become the first Bishop of Walla Walla. The diocese was short-lived as Bishop Blanchet fled to St. Paul, Oregon, after the Whitman Massacre. In 1850, the Diocese of Nesqually was established in Vancouver and in 1853 the Diocese of Walla Walla was suppressed and absorbed into the Diocese of Nesqually. Today, the Diocese of Walla Walla is a titular see currently held by Witold Mroziewski, an auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn.”

“The original North West Company and later Hudson’s Bay Company Fort Nez Percés fur trading outpost, became a major stopping point for migrants moving west to Oregon Country. The fort has been restored with many of the original buildings preserved. The current Fort Walla Walla contains these buildings, albeit in a different location from the original, as well as a museum about the early settlers’ lives.”

The main appeal for our getaway is wine tasting, although the area has a rich agricultural tradition, including Walla Walla Sweet Onions. I just hope they don’t make a habit of serving onion wine. We’re not big fans of onions that perhaps brought up the subject of Walla Walla last night at Morton’s to inspire this spur-of-the-moment trip. Years ago we were served a huge loaf of their popular onion bread that neither of us wanted. When I told the waiter to take it away, he said “don’t worry sir – it’s complimentary.” I viewed it as an insult after he turned his nose up when we only ordered water (rare for us). We still joke about it every time we visit a Morton’s location, and make a point of telling our server that we don’t want bread before they have to remove it from the table. Needless to say, it’s not onions that we seek in Walla Walla but rather the more than 100 wineries that include Merlot and Cabernet grapes. “Life is a Cabernet old chum,” while onions are not “appealing” pal.