From Chile to Che: Crossing the Patagonian Andes

img_1412Patagonia and its End of the World charm have always tempted adventurers and we were no different.  Although the confines of our two week vacation window stopped us from having a grand “North Face commercial” expedition full of glaciers and penguins, it did allow us to see the Lake District of Patagonia between Puerto Varas, Chile and Bariloche, Argentina, Mendoza Wine Country, Buenos Aires, and even Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.

The biggest challenge of Southern Cone travel is getting there.  Taking three flights for 14 hours in the air, not including layovers, equating to about 20 hours of travel (not including the 4 hour drive to Minneapolis airport before even taking off!) can be enough to discourage many travelers.  I thought I was being very wise by tacking on a $400 upgrade to already high airfare to put us in a bulkhead row for more legroom on our American Airlines flight.  However, when we boarded this new, shiny aircraft, we found out that the bulkhead seats with dividers between each seat were even narrower than the regular child-size coach seats.  So for all that money we ended up in seats so pinched on the 10 hour Dallas-Santiago leg that fitting into the seat AND putting the tray table down were impossible.  This is not a great way to start a trip!

Upon landing in Santiago, we faced a six hour layover so we paid for admission into a VIP lounge and spent our time attempting to sleep, eating, drinking wine, and getting a shower in so we were ready for the next flight to Puerto Montt.  From the airport we were transported to Puerto Varas to the stellar Hotel Dreams de Los Volcanes http://www.mundodreams.com/puerto-varas .  It was one of the nicest rooms ever—patio door leading to a balcony img_1362overlooking Lake Llanquihue and Volcano Osorno, huge bathroom…heaven!

Once settled in and freshened up at the hotel, we wandered around Puerto Varas, a German style village in Chilean Patagonia.  Hunger was calling and we’d be leaving Chile already tomorrow and heading for beef-centric Argentina so we opted for the Chilean specialty of fresh seafood at Las Buenas Brasas.  The place was packed and for good reason!  img_1386We had scallops on the shell broiled with parmesan and king crab chupe, a fantastic crab/cheese creation that paired perfectly with the Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.

It was still early and light out so we strolled around by the shore of Lago Llanquihue to stretch our legs, which were still suffering from the flights.  We returned to the hotel and Russell crashed, but I got a second wind and went and checked out the pool and spa area.  After a dip in the Jacuzzi and pool, I spent some time in both the steam room and sauna, and then was officially worn out as well.

The next morning we needed to board the bus for the Cruce Andino, conveniently located next door to the hotel.  An early, fantastic breakfast at the hotel included smoked salmon, cappuccino, and a view of the volcano.  Just how I like to wake up in a new country!

It was hard to leave the perfection that was Hotel Dreams, but the highlight of our trip was that day and we were anxious to start our Andean cruise.  The Cruce Andino https://www.cruceandino.com/#/home takes you across the Andes from Puerto Varas, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina via buses and three different boats.  It is an absolute MUST!  It is the reason we flew into Chile and not directly into Argentina. We started on a coach bus and passed three different volcanoes, the last one erupting in 2015 with ash damage still visible.  We made a stop at the falls in Petrohue (by the “way”, I found out that “hue”, present in many Chilean words, is an indigenous word meaning “place of”) and then boarded the greatest boat ride of all time across Lago Todos Santos.  img_1450It was a mild autumn day and the sky was free of clouds and wind.  Snaking between the mountains and volcanoes was like a dream.  We got a great spot to stand/lean on the top deck and we got a really nice bottle of Chilean Cabernet, making the views even better!  We also met some students from the Midwest who were studying abroad in Santiago so that was very informative and entertaining.

We made a stop for lunch at Peulla.  img_1477Some passengers stayed there for a night, but I was glad we were continuing on as there wasn’t really much there but a hotel and restaurant.  We had a lunch of salmon with vegetables and spaghetti and then took a nap in the sun on the hotel lawn overlooking the lake and mountains.  Once again—heaven!img_1632

The next stretch was a two hour journey crossing the border into Argentina img_1497on a super treacherous gravel road with no shoulder.  Thank you to the best bus driver on the planet!  We were relieved to be off the bus when we arrived at Laguna Fría, where Che Guevara crossed on his motorcycle, La Poderosa, during his South American road trip many years ago.img_1501

Our next boat ride only took 20 minutes, but was a pretty ride across a green colored lake.  img_1502We arrived in Puerto Blest where another bus took us the 3 km to the boat launch for our last leg of the trip across Lago Nahuel Haupi.  This ride was about an hour, but the sun had set and the chill rolled in so top deck viewing was not for the faint of heart.  I warmed up with some coffee and set my eyes on the shore ahead and the lights of  Puerto Pañuelo, northwest of the city of Bariloche.

The entire Cruce Andino experience lasted about 12 hours and it was one of the best days we’ve ever had.  We arrived after 8:00 pm, an hour later than expected, but luckily our driver was still waiting for us.  Next stop, Bariloche!

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Getting Happy in San Antonio

img_2343To escape the Wisconsin winter, and as a pick me up for the post-holiday blues, we headed to San Antonio, Texas for a four night getaway.  It seemed like everyone I’d ever talked to who had been there had said to me, “You HAVE to go there!”  And so, we went.

If you are thinking of visiting as well, I highly recommend a visit over the Christmas season.  The Riverwalk area is awash in holiday lighting and it is completely mesmerizing. img_2405img_2365 Our plan was simply to hang out.  Eat.  Drink.  See the Alamo.  Of course, the Alamo!  It’s the center of everything and it was conveniently located right across the street from our hotel, img_2319the “haunted” Emily Morgan Hotel.   www.emilymorganhotel.com

I had read plenty about the city and the Alamo before I came, but after visiting the Alamo img_2391and Battle for Texas, a mall attraction that is actually a fabulous museum, I felt like I should have received 3 credits in Texas history.  I am certain I drove Russell crazy with my constant variations of the famous Davy Crockett quote after losing his Senate election:  “You may all go to Hell and I will go to Texas”.  (my personal favorite: “You may all go to Hell and I will have a martini”)  But I digress…

Texas history is impressive and it gives you an appreciation for the spirit of the people.  However, many of the residents of San Antonio are transplants from other areas of the country.  We did not hear very much “Texas drawl”.  There was definitely the ever-present Español, so I was quite happy practicing my Spanish and eavesdropping on people.

I would be remiss in my report of this trip if I did not mention the fact that we were there during Bowl Season, the Alamo Bowl, to be specific.  The two teams were Washington State and Iowa State and the Iowa State fans were there in full force.  Both fan groups swarmed the city in their team colors, but you could not get away from the Iowans.  Wisconsin people say that Iowa stands for Idiots Out Wandering Around, but I coined a new word: Iowasa: Idiots Out Wandering Around San Antonio.

The Riverwalk was so congested with them.  The Alamo was full of them.  (Where were they when Davy needed men?) Basically every square inch of downtown San Antonio was overrun with them.  It was that realization that made us decide to take a nighttime cruise of the Riverwalk right in the middle of their bowl game.  img_2366….peace.  Not really.  It was still a huge line, but I’m guessing others had the same idea as we did.

I’m only joking about the Iowans—they were actually quite well behaved.  They were not, however, who we bonded with while we were out and about.  The objects of our affection were usually locals or Washington State fans.  One of the keys to our “Happy-ness” and more importantly, our trip-budget-success, was the search for the city’s best Happy Hour.  My prior research of this should have earned me another 3 credits.  After other city trips we have taken and the subsequent cocktail sticker shock of the $14 cocktail and $15 glass of wine accompanied by high priced dinner menus, I have made it my mission to find the best Happy Hour, or I should say HourS.

During our Santa Anna-esque conquest of local establishments, we visited places like Oro Bar and Paesano’s only to find out their online Happy Hour specials either no longer existed or were less than stellar.  All the same , these are great places to eat and drink as we can attest from the wonderful shrimp ceviche and short rib tacos at Oro Bar and the bruschetta crostini with lemon drop martini img_2347served at “the best table on the Riverwalk” at Paesano’s www.paesanos.com .

But the sweetest deals around were at our most social of spots:  Chart House www.chart-house.com/locations/san-antonio/index.asp and Landry’s Seafood House www.landrysseafood.com/location-san-antonio.asp

First—the details:  Chart House is 750’ in the air at the top of The Tower of the Americas.  img_2364Sure, you can wait in the long line and pay to go up to the observation deck, but why not keep walking past the line to the entrance for Chart House and ride that elevator for free with a very short line? I know I have accumulated 6 imaginary credits on this trip, but you don’t have to be a genius to know that’s a better deal.  And speaking of deals, the Happy Hour is excellent and runs Monday-Friday from 4:30-7:00 pm.  The key is getting there a little early to secure seating to make the most of it like we did.  What follows are drink specials from $5-8, and more importantly, delicious food specials like ahi tuna wonton nachos and fish tacos from $4-7!img_2360

And so we settled in at the bar for a few hours—the Wisconsin Badgers were kind enough to schedule their bowl game during Happy Hour—thanks, Bucky!  Between the Badger game, the great deals on food and drink,  and watching a beautiful sunset over San Antonio (followed by the twinkling city lights), it was a dream come true.  It was also a very social mood (must have been the drinks paired with the “elevation”) because on my way back from the bathroom I stopped to give some food recommendations to a group of Washington State fans who then invited me to sit with them for quite some time and have conversations ranging from football to politics.  Very Texan!  The funniest part is that over the next two days we ran into this group of people two more times at two different places.  Small world, indeed!

A final comment on the sky-high Chart House Happy Hour—it is a REALLY fun ride down that elevator afterward!

Next, was the Happy HourS at Landry’s Seafood House on the Riverwalk.  This is truly the best deal on the Riverwalk.  It goes from Monday-Friday 3-7 and on Saturday-Sunday it is 12-7.  No, that is not a typo.  A seven hour Happy Hour.  God Bless Texas.  To top off the lovely $3.75-8 drink specials and $4-7 food specials, img_2394the two nights we were there, they had live music playing in the bar.  And not just any live music—we got to hear 3 time Grammy-winner and local legend Joe Posada and the Joe Posada Trio nail some jazz and Sinatra favorites.  Landry’s was such a great place and until about 5:00 was very uncrowded, giving patrons a lot of personal attention from the bar staff, whom we immediately bonded with.  In fact, when we left at 6:30 the second night, the head bartender Brandon shook our hands and then came around the bar to give us both hugs.  That’s normal….right?  And speaking of special attention, on the second night of the Joe Posada Trio, Joe himself came over to us and thanked us for coming back.  He also gave us a shout out on the mic during his set and when we left at 6:30 stopped us and told us to come back later as they were playing till 11:00.  What’s not to love about that?  It made me happy that we had splurged on non-Happy Hour menu stars like lobster bisque and chargrilled oysters that night.  img_2440Viva San Antonio!

Other honorable mentions from the trip include a public bus driver that we got to know while we took an hour “rest” riding the 11B bus around the city.  We were the only ones on the bus most of the ride, so we got a nice personal tour for $1.30.  We also had some excellent breakfasts at La Panaderia, which had an incredibly long lineimg_2374 that rewarded us with chipotle pork eggs benedict img_2382and the “Buenos Días” img_2381loaded with eggs, avocado, bacon, and tomatoes, and  at La Boulangerie, a French bakery and café with outstanding crepes, baguette sandwiches, and breakfast croissants.  Our breakfast dessert of a Nutella crepe was sinful!

And so all was accomplished on our trip to San Antonio.

Alamo. Check. img_2425 Riverwalk.  Check.

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Great food and drinks.  Check.

img_2378And most importantly, great connections made with random people, which is really the reason we should all be traveling.  Salud!

Road Trippin’ with Señora Part 8–Seattle, WA

IMG_1201Our welcome to Seattle was slightly less than welcoming.  After a miserable, longer than anticipated bus ride from Vancouver, we arrived right during the evening rush hour.  Hoping to snag an Uber to bring us to our hotel, the Roosevelt Hotel (now the Hotel Theodore), we found out it would be over an hour wait, leading us to find a Plan B.  Luckily a kind, bearded fellow near the crosswalk was helpful and directed us toward a city bus stop.  However, not anticipating this situation, we boarded without correct change causing the exasperated driver to tell us to “just sit down”.  This curious local bus uses the underground subway tunnels to reach its destinations to avoid street level traffic—genius!  Our annoyed driver alerted us of our stop and after thanking him profusely, we made our way to the hotel.

We were so wiped out after both of the day’s bus incidents and travel chaos and were really looking forward to settling into our 4 star hotel and maybe even enjoying a much needed cocktail in the lobby, but it was not meant to be.  We located the hotel and were greeted by a plywood welcome sign.  To our surprise the place was under renovation.  After squeezing into the reception area, all lobby cocktail dreams were shattered as it was closed off and construction dust was everywhere.

We rode the elevator up to our room– fragile, worn out versions of our morning selves.  When we walked into our room, I wanted to cry.  Russell was simply irate.  We entered what I’d consider the smallest hotel room of my life (and I’ve been in Manhattan!).  To make matters worse, its window was facing a block wall IMG_1190and an AC unit from a neighboring building, that it turns out, would run all night long.  It was claustrophobia at its worst.  One person could barely fit in the bathroom.

After collecting myself, I called the front desk and shared our disappointment, but were notified that the hotel was completely full that night.  The lovely desk clerk promised that tomorrow as soon as possible they would move us to a larger room.  God bless.

Without unpacking a thing, we “escaped” from our cage in search of a well deserved happy hour, which we found at the fantastic Korean restaurant, Chan http://www.chanseattle.com/ .  This place is incredible.  We were blown away by our appetizer assortment of ahi tuna poke, beef and pork sliders, and chicken wings.  IMG_1191IMG_1194IMG_1196After this wonderful battery-recharger, we strolled over to the park behind Pike Place Market and looked out onto Elliot Bay and a crystal clear view of Mount Rainer.  This view would continue throughout our stay in Seattle, along with cloud-free skies, so things were improving already!

On the way home we passed this guy who actually took time to make this sign and share it with people.  IMG_1284Wow.  Thank you.

We settled back into our micro-room for the night feeling much better about Seattle than when we first arrived.

The following day the city would continue all efforts to make us love her, starting with brunch of Dungeness crab eggs Benedict IMG_1208and omelet at the very busy, very delicious Café Bacco https://www.baccocafe.com/ .  Continuing to enjoy the magic of the city, we then strolled through Pike Place Market and drank in all of the great colors, smells, and sounds that can be found there.  IMG_1213IMG_1212IMG_1218The next stop was the Aquarium where we made the best purchase ever—the City Pass https://www.citypass.com/seattle .  The highlight of the Aquarium was watching the sea otters just hanging out and chilling.  Adorable!  With City Pass in hand and it being our last full day in Seattle, we tried to take in as many sights as possible.  We arrived at the Argosy Harbor Cruise in time for its next departure and got on an excellent cruise of the bay with a ton of interesting narrated information, stellar views of the city and Mount Rainer, and some nice wine to pair with it all. A big ship came in and unloaded while we were in the bay, so that was a real highlight for Russell as well.

Next on my list was going up in the Space Needle, which acrophobic Russell passed on, so I caught the monorail myself over to the Seattle Center.  I think he was just looking for an excuse to return to our newly upgraded Superior King room on the 16th floor.  The views from the room were nice—no block walls in sight.  But the views I was rewarded with from the top of the Space Needle were incredible!  IMG_1261IMG_1267After that I used my City Pass again and checked out the super cool Frank Gehry-designed Museum of Pop Culture IMG_1252IMG_1254IMG_1253before meeting Russell at the Pacific Science Center for the IMAX film on the Terracotta Soldiers.  Thanks, City Pass, for a fun and educational day!

Once the monorail returned us to downtown, the draw of happy hour was calling to us so we bee lined over to Pike Place Market and Athenian http://www.athenianseattle.com/ , of Sleepless in Seattle fame.  It was SO busy, but after some patience we scored a great table at the window overlooking Elliot Bay.  Sipping excellent porter beer and working our way through plates of appetizers, including our last chance at fresh Wild Coho salmon, IMG_1280we bid farewell to the magical Emerald City—a perfect end to our two week Pacific Coast Road Trip!

 

Road Trippin’ with Señora Part 7–Vancouver, BC

Our late arrival to Vancouver via ferry was very memorable and full of nature so it was a huge contrast to our downtown hotel, the Vancouver Hyatt Regency, in the center of the concrete jungle that is the financial district.  In retrospect a better neighborhood for city visitors would have been Gastown, which is full of cafés, bars, and shops.  We spent a lot of time there, but it was not that far of a walk, so all was fine and our views from the 30th floor were pretty special too.

The first morning we walked to Deacon’s Corner https://www.deaconscorner.ca/ in Gastown.  This diner specializes in food from the American South so Russell started his day with a chicken fried steak and I indulged in fried chicken eggs Benedict on fried grits cakes.  Helloooo, Lipitor!  We eventually rolled out of our booth and made it out to the street where we walked along a gritty waterfront area back to downtown and Canada Place.  This over-water landmark is beautiful and is home to Fly Over Canada, the best interactive movie/ride I’ve ever experienced.  Afterward we “walked across Canada” on the way out over their national map on the sidewalk and Russell posed in front of the World’s Largest Ear Syringe… or whatever this sculpture is. 

That afternoon while Russell napped off his breakfast, I strolled through Water Street and its cute shops, including this one with a cheeky window in Gastown.  Satisfied that I’d at least burned off one grits cake, I picked up Russell at the hotel and we jumped on the light rail to the False Creek Ferry dock and headed over to Granville Island.  The ride over is beautiful, as we were once again blessed with a sunny day.  Russell liked the ferry, but was really hoping to take this girl out for a ride instead.  Maybe next time.

Visitors to Granville Island are greeted by these friendly granary towers. The only real activities to do there are shopping which we were not really feeling, so we tucked into The Keg, lured by its Happy Hour sign out front.  A late lunch of mega nachos paired with Bloody Caesars was a great call.  Once the ferry and train returned us to downtown after that, we found ourselves once again in Gastown at Water Street 151 for a drink and people watching on the sidewalk terrace, taking care to avoid eye contact with “interesting” passersby.  Characters galore!

More walking came next—Vancouver is a walker’s dream—down to the waterfront of Coal Harbour where we saw another grouping of adorable floating homes, similar to Victoria.  After that, we called it a night and made our way back to the hotel.

The next day we were heading to Seattle, but we made time to stop at Scoozi’s  http://www.scoozis.ca/ for Breakfast Deep Dishes, described on the menu as a casserole omelet hybrid.  Very delicious and a lovely spot, minus the naughtiest two children on the planet at a nearby table.

In closing the chapter on Vancouver, I must explain the transportation issue that followed.  The original plan was to take the Amtrak train from Vancouver to Seattle.  Every single part of the transportation puzzle so far—driving, airplanes, ferries—was stellar.  Till now.  After we set up our itinerary and had all flights booked, we found out that the train linking these two towns had a schedule that was not convenient to our plans.  However, on the website there was an Amtrak bus that linked the cities with a very convenient departure and arrival time.  It looked good on paper.

What ensued was an awful five hour ride with a long delay at the border crossing and THE most disgusting onboard bathroom in the history of transportation, according to Russell.  My travel “do over” would have been to fly from Portland to Vancouver, instead of Victoria, and take ferries from Vancouver to Victoria and then Victoria to Seattle.

The only highlight of the situation was the fact that at the Amtrak station we decided to burn up our remaining Canadian cash at the A&W Restaurant on, what else, an order of poutine and two frosted mugs of root beer.  Minus this “meal for the ages”, it just wasn’t our day all around because the cluster continued when we arrived in Seattle.  Stay tuned for details of this, our final stop on the Pacific Coast Roadtrip!

Road Trippin’ with Señora Part 6–Victoria, BC

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Everyone always talks about Vancouver, but the real jewel of British Columbia is Victoria.  After our delayed flights from Portland finally got us there, we endured an expensive, lengthy taxi ride with a chatty Indian gentleman who eventually dropped us a couple blocks from our destination, the Magnolia Hotel www.magnoliahotel.com (after showing us photos of almost every one of his family members).  The reason for our non-doorstop delivery was our arrival coinciding with the annual Car Free Victoria Day.  Once checked in, we immediately left and immersed ourselves in the festival.  Tent after tent of music, entertainment, and Canadian beer img_0990intermingled with tons of food carts now filling the car-empty downtown streets of Victoria.  My favorite food cart quickly became a poutine cart where I began my new addiction to this magical Canuck mixture of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy.  img_0994img_0992Over the next three days I would become not only an addict, but an aficionado.

Following an afternoon of great music, local microbrews, and some blackened fish tacos from another cart, we wandered down by the picturesque Inner Harbour.  A trip to Victoria isn’t complete without a lot of gazing at the beautiful, waterfront Fairmont Empress Hotel, famous for it’s daily high tea.  img_1014Although we didn’t feel the need to shell out for this event, we did go into the hotel and do one of my favorite things:  wandering around fancy hotels and acting like I’m staying there.  Once I had sufficiently annoyed Russell with our “free tour”, we left and walked along the harbor all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf where we got an up close look at the floating houses.  img_1030img_1021Dreading the walk back to the hotel, we jumped on a water taxi and cut across the harbor back downtown.  img_1032As evening closed in, thirst and hunger reappeared so we found ourselves at an Irish pub (it is BRITISH Columbia, after all), enjoying some “trad” music, Guinness, and crab bisque. img_1037

The next day we walked to Beacon Hill Park and then took a tour of Parliament, img_1019swinging through the gift shop on the way out and purchasing a tin of cleverly named Parlia Mints.  Although they provided pun-filled, minty freshness, the real culinary highlight of the day would come next when we visited a shipping container turned eatery on a pier in the Inner Harbour call Red Fish Blue Fish www.redfish-bluefish.com .  There we had an enormous lunch of tuna and salmon tacos and a side of jerk seafood poutine, helping feed my new craving.  img_1058We ate at the harbor view railing and watched sea planes land and water taxis and ferries crisscross the water. img_1054img_1018

It was hard to pull ourselves away, but we still wanted to see Victoria’s Chinatown, img_1075Canada’s oldest, including the ultra narrow Fan Tan Alley img_1069and so we were off again.  The walkable area of downtown Victoria really does allow visitors to be “Car Free”, just like the festival that greeted us the previous day.  It was with great regret that we had only allowed for one night in this amazing place, our favorite, but the clock was ticking and our ferry to Vancouver was leaving soon.  And so we grabbed some sushi to go for the ride through the waters of the Strait of Georgia bound for the mainland.

The ride is not only a practical connection between the two cities, but a gorgeous, mountain-filled one at that!  img_1085We rode the whole way over on the brisk upper deck, enjoying the views and the sushi.  The only complaint?  No bar!  A nice glass of wine would have really been the icing (or the Riesling?) on the cake, so my parting words of advice to future passengers:  BYOB or W and anchors up!  On to Vancouver…

Road Trippin’ with Señora Part 5–Portland, OR

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After a lovely night at The Cannery Pier Hotel, we got to do some ship-watching from the lobby over breakfast and then said goodbye to Astoria.  It was a Friday and we really wanted to explore the town that morning since we were rained in the day before, but the weather had other ideas.  So instead of getting to know the riverside gem, we continued inland toward Portland.  On the way out of town we passed the restaurant with the worst name of all time:  Lung Fung.  Ew.img_0853

Before coming into Portland where we would surrender our beloved rental car, we veered out of town to explore the Columbia River Gorge area and Multnomah Falls.  The bad weather would persist, however, and the rain and fog discouraged a lot of stops.  One breathtaking spot that still looked great despite the gloom was Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint.  I thought it probably even looked better WITH the fog! img_0863

We traveled along the historic river road and although the rain carried on, we knew we just had to join the masses at Multnomah Falls.  img_0869The high bridge was simply too tempting for me to resist so I headed up while Russell enjoyed his ground-level vista “just fine, thank you”.  It would have been nice to explore the other trails, but the rain would not have it, so on to Portland!

Once we returned the rental car, we reacquainted ourselves with public transportation and headed to the Benson Hotel www.bensonhotel.com  downtown.  This historic property had a magnificent lobby with wine tastings in the evening.  Our corner room was gorgeous and we enjoyed two nights on the lovely Tempur-Pedic bed.  Another perk was the bottle of champagne the desk clerk sent up after hearing our trip was for our 20th anniversary.img_0933

To better familiarize ourselves with our new city, we hoofed it over to the Pearl District, after swinging through Powell’s City of Books.  We lucked out to walk into Andina www.andinarestaurant.com , a high-end Peruvian hotspot, during their happy hour where we enjoyed some Pisco Sours and appetizers like cebiche, causa limeña, and empanadasimg_0882img_0885img_0886After that it was on to more substantial food at the nearby Mexican eatery, Cha Cha Cha www.chachachapdx.com .  The hibiscus margarita paired nicely with pork and tomatillo tamales and chicken quinoa salad. img_0888

img_0887To burn off all of those south of the border calories, we continued our stroll to Pioneer Square, which was sadly under construction.  And so we ended up passing through a nearby square that strangely had a DJ set up on it—in the evening daylight hours—and featured an entertaining assortment of random white people dancing badly.  Of course I joined in because I totally relate to that crowd!  After that, we were ready to call it a day.

The next morning the city was abuzz with not only the big Portland Saturday Market, but it was also the weekend of the Gay Pride Festival.  We checked out both events on our way to a brunch of wild salmon hash at Mother’s Bistro www.mothersbistro.com .  The people-watching at the Pride festival was outstanding with many clever t-shirts including “Straight Outta The Closet” and “This is the Gay the Lord Has Made”.

When we had our fill of people, we hopped on the train for nature time at the Japanese Gardens img_0964and then the stunning International Rose Test Garden.  img_0979img_0984The latter was overwhelming and beautiful and overlooked the city and Mount Hood.  It was so nice to see the sun again in Portland after our two days of rain!img_0975

The train brought us back downtown after our flower-fest and we made a stop at one of Portland’s food cart blocks.  Our selection of a Pad Thai cart was a good one, and we dined on a park bench while doing more people-watching of the colorful locals.  They were definitely doing their part to Keep Portland Weird.

Later that evening we met up with our nephew, a hipster transplant to Portland, for cocktails at a speakeasy-type bar, Pépé le Moko www.pepelemokopdx.com , beneath the Ace Hotel.  It really had great character, but the pricey craft cocktails did not allow for too much imbibing.  We called it an early night as we’d be flying to Victoria, BC the next morning.

Portland is as cool of a city as everyone says and has plenty of opportunities for checking out all things “Weird” and wonderful.  Next stop, north of the border!

 

 

Road Trippin’ with Señora Part 4–The Oregon Coast

(Readers—sorry for the long lapse since the last blog post—extremely slow internet connection led to much photo loading frustration and over a year of pouting, but now I’m back!  So let’s continue the West Coast Road Trip!)

After a mid-morning departure from the heavenly Lost Whale Inn in Trinidad, CA, we continued north to the Oregon Coast.  Many folks might not know, but Oregon has some really great bridge architecture.  IMG_0778IMG_0782We were constantly in awe of the bridges here.  And speaking of “bridges”, not long after crossing into Oregon, we turned left near Brookings, OR at Natural Bridge.  This is an amazing place that has a very small sign so it is easy to miss.  IMG_0759Do not miss it though!  Definitely one of the most breathtaking spots of the trip.  The blue/greens of the water are just amazing.

The views along the Oregon Coast are magical.  It is a very pristine coastline with many large rock formations along the way and miles of flat, walkable beaches. IMG_0793

Our next stop was in Bandon for lunch at the (locally) famous Tony’s Crab Shack.  IMG_0770A fresh pair of crab sandwiches gave us the energy we would need for our next adventure, the Oregon Sand Dunes National Recreation Area.  Oregon has miles of sand dunes and wandering around on them is a good time, minus the inevitable sand in your shoes.

An even more beautiful opportunity to stretch the legs was the Heceta Head Lighthouse.  This photo-worthy spot is also home to a B&B and once we got there I regretted not booking a night there. The views were outstanding and I was easily picturing us on the lawn furniture in front of the restored lighthouse keeper’s residence.

My plan, made months in advance was to get as far up the coast as we could in the daylight, which brought us to Yachats, one of my few regrets of the trip.  This town was not that magical, so I advise spending the night elsewhere further south and make up the distance the next day.  In Yachats we stayed at Deane’s Oceanfront Lodge, which is like stepping back to the 50’s and after all of the over the top lodging we had been staying in, I watched Russell become a “hotel snob” when he walked into the room, declaring it The Bates Motel.  It wasn’t THAT bad… But nothing as grand as where we would be staying the next night in Astoria.

The following morning I was hoping to take a long walk on the beach in front of our hotel, but we were greeted by the first rain of our trip.  Hard to believe for the Pacific Northwest!  The rain was relentless and never let up the whole day, which made our travels much quicker since the weather was so bad there was no way we were stopping at places like Cannon Beach and walking around.  It was a downpour!

We did manage to stop at one famous site though, albeit an indoor attraction:  the wonderland that is the Tillamook Cheese Factory.  Coming from Wisconsin we feel like we know our cheese and we can attest that Tillamook does as well!  After about a pound of samples we continued to graze on a Piglet sandwich served with a bowl of tomato soup with cheese curds melted into it.  Rainy day heaven!  And speaking of heaven, we arrived earlier than expected to our destination of Astoria due to the weather and were wondering what we would do INDOORS to kill time before check in.  We were staying at the fabulous Cannery Pier Hotel, http://www.cannerypierhotel.com and to our surprise, they allowed us to check in several hours early!  This place is a restored salmon cannery right on top of the Columbia River.  All rooms face the river and have a balcony and a window seat, accompanied by binoculars and a Pendleton blanket for optimal ship viewing.

After driving in the rain and not sleeping the best the previous night, Russell crashed on the bed of the enormous room while I unwound in the claw foot tub of the well appointed bathroom.  My next stop was the spa downstairs where I continued to pamper myself with a sauna and also set up a much needed neck and shoulder massage for Russell.

Once we were completely recuperated and in relaxed mode, we joined the other hotel guests in the window-filled lobby for their complimentary wine and lox reception.  I wasn’t sure the hotel could get any better until the front desk clerk helped me with a reservation at the nearby Bridgewater Bistro and then arranged for the complimentary chauffeur to bring us there in a sweet vintage car!  It was so over the top!  Not that I’m complaining!  My now hotel-snob-husband was absolutely thrilled as well.

And after an excellent meal at Bridgewater Bistro http://www.bridgewaterbistro.com of cioppino (remember–I never met a cioppino I didn’t like!) and wild mushroom pasta, we settled in for one of the best night’s sleeps of the trip.  I would be hard to leave Astoria the next day, but to be clear, the hard part would be leaving the Cannery Pier Hotel because it was pretty much the only part of Astoria we had seen because of all the rain.

But it sure was the best place we’ve ever been stranded!