All Posts in “Vacation”

Portland Vacation 2014: Day Three

Today was our last day in Portland. After we woke up and checked out of our hotel, we went and got breakfast at Blue Star Donuts. Stephanie had walked by this place (in the evening, when they were closed) the last time she was in Portland doin’ some job interviews, and she wanted to be sure and check it out during this visit.

The place was pretty cute and fairly busy; there was a consistent line of 8-10 people the whole time we were there. They had a nice selection of ~15 donuts to pick from ranging from traditional old fashioneds to ultra-fancy blueberry+bourbon+basil cake donuts. After we received our donuts, we went across the street to Heart Coffee Roasters to get some coffee to pair with our sweets. Their espresso had some really strong chocolate/fruit notes. It was a little different, but very nice to drink. The donuts, on the other hand, were somewhat lackluster. My cake was pretty greasy, and Stephanie’s frosting was a touch too acidic/metallic. But we ate everything and were happy to have tried some place new.

Andrew Blue Star DonutStephanie Blue Star Donuts

I had dulce de leche hazelnut donut and Steph had one with passion fruit frosting and cocoa nib bits.

Once we finished stuffing our faces, we drove up to Washington Park. This is a massive (400+ acre) public urban park just a few miles southeast of downtown. It contains a zoo, a sprawling arboretum, a forestry museum, a children’s museum, a rose garden, a Japanese garden, and a ton of sports fields/play areas/walking trails. First, we visited the Portland Japanese Garden. Opening in 1967, it has been widely recognized as one of the best, most authentic Japanese gardens in the world (even including gardens in Japan!). I really appreciate traditional Japanese aesthetics, so I was really excited.

Portland_Japanese_GardenThe Upper Pond in the Strolling Pond Garden reflects the vibrant foliage.

This garden was really beautiful and probably my favorite part about our visit to Portland. If you’re ever in the area, I would heartily recommend checking it out. Upon entering, we were immediately afforded an amazing view of Mt. Hood as it seemingly rose up out of the Portland skyline. I think this was my first trip to Portland where visibility was good enough to enable a view of Mt. Hood. It’s quite dramatic.

Anyway, at almost six acres, the garden contains five! different varieties of traditional Japanese gardenscapes. They each have their own aesthetic and section of the grounds, but everything is so artfully arranged that they blend into one another almost seamlessly. Because it was SO sunny today, all of the colors were extra concentrated; everything felt especially fresh and verdant. Although I wish that the average person had a better sense of how they should act in a public garden/space (hot tip: it is NOT okay to squat down in the middle of a narrow, one-way footbridge to take crappy pictures of koi with your camera phone for 60+ seconds while other people are waiting behind you – also, DON’T pick flowers/leaves!), Stephanie and I were able to find lots of little “hidden” benches to sit on and enjoy some fleeting moments of serenity. I would definitely be interested in visiting again – especially during a different season.

Andrew torii Japanese gardenExploring the shadowy paths of the Natural Garden.

After we finished touring the Japanese Garden, we went down to the International Rose Test Garden. The Internet tells me that this garden contains over 7,000 rose bushes of approximately 550 different varieties. “Peak bloom” generally occurs in mid-June, so we lucked out and timed our visit perfectly. There were hundreds of people slowly walking up and down the gently sloped hill between beds of roses. Most people carried cameras, but a few held parasols above their heads to keep themselves cool. The fragrance of sooooo many flowers, combined with the sunshine, created a particularly festive atmosphere. If everyone had been dressed in their best formal wear, it wouldn’t have been to hard to imagine that we were all attending some elaborate garden party. There was even a harpist performing in the amphitheatre!

Stephanie_Rose_1Stephanie with one of her favorites.

Before we returned to Seattle, we stopped and grabbed an early dinner. We found a taqueria with a nice outdoor patio area in the Alphabet District and ate in the sunshine. I got a taco combo plate with one barbacoa taco (my favorite taco fillin’), one carnitas taco, and one pescado taco (meat #27!). These were a little small, but pretty tasty. Traffic wasn’t too bad on our drive north and we made it home safely without incident.

Thanks for the wonderful weekend, Portland!

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Miles run in 2014: 145.5
Books read in 2014: 37

Portland Vacation 2014: Day Two

To start our Saturday, we went and got breakfast at Sweetpea Baking Company (a vegan bakery) which is in the Buckman neighborhood of Portland. I got an iced Americano and a delicious almond ring pastry. This place is really good; we always visit whenever we’re in town.

Andrew_SweetpeaEnjoying my coffee while watching some puppies wrestlin’ outside the window.

The main activity that we had planned today (and really, this is the thing helped us decide to come down to Portland on this particular weekend) was attending the Portland Fruit Beer Festival hosted by the Burnside Brewing Company. We wanted to get there fairly early before the crowds got too nuts-o (the festival started at 11 am), so we headed over after we finished our coffee. Luckily, the brewery is only about ten blocks away from the bakery, which meant we could just walk up.

We got there at the perfect time. There were enough folks milling around so that the environment felt festive, but not so many that you had to wait in line to get beer. As part of admission, each person got a commemorative pint glass and 12 tickets good for samplin’. Most of the samples “cost” one ticket for a 3 oz. taste, but some of the fancier/rarer/higher ABV stuff was two or three tickets. The majority of the pourers were ~sticklers about not giving you more than 3 oz., but a few of the guys were pretty generous and filled your glass halfway. Woo! There were more than 45 kinds of beers and ciders from ~30 different breweries available for tasting.

glass and guide Portland beer festStephanie Portland Beer FestFestival guide (left) and Stephanie enjoying Ecliptic Brewing’s Lacerta Frambuesa (right).

Between the two of us, Stephanie and I tried 18 different varieties. While we were sippin’ on our beverages, we split an order of pretzel knots and a bucket of truffle fries. My favorite drinks on the day were the Peach Slap by Deschutes Brewery (a semi-sour ale with strong peach, peppercorn, and juniper berry flavors – absolutely my favorite drink today), the Sweet Triple Hot ¡Tepache! by Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider (pineapple juice fermented with habenero, aji, and ghost peppers – sweet with a pretty good kick; pineapple pairs so well spicy), and The Tiger Cub by Stone Brewing (a very sour saison with a strong cherry flavor – mouth-puckeringly delicious). Stephanie’s favorite (which I also enjoyed a lot) was a Belgian Framboise infused with cocoa nibs and raspberries. By the time we left (around 2 pm), the place was packed. We had to stand in line for ~10 minutes to get our last sample. I’m glad that we got there as early as we did.

beer notes PortlandHastily scribbled notes about some of the different beers we sampled.

Once we left the brewery, we mosied over to downtown Portland and made our obligatory visit to Powell’s. We also walked through the Saturday market and did a fair amount of window shoppin’. It was really nice out, so it was pleasant to just wander around ~aimlessly.

For dinner, we went to Sushi Ahi. It was okay (not great). Sushi is definitely one of my favorite warm-weather foods because it’s so light and fresh and easy to eat. Unfortunately, the menu they had in the restaurant was significantly different than the one on their website (way fewer veggie sushi rolls), so we ended up mostly ordering a bunch of veggie appetizers/starters. They did have one vegetarian roll (the SUPER VEGGIE), which we did get. It had a whole lot goin’ on, but it was good. We also split an avocado+tofu caprese salad, some deep fried tofu wrapped in daikon, some broiled taro potatoes in miso paste, and some edamame.

Ahi sushiSuper Veggie: cucumber, avocado, oshinko, gobo, kaiware, inari, and asparagus wrapped in soy paper. Oh my!

After dinner, we went out for a drink at Hereafter (the sister bar to The Bye and Bye). It was still really nice out, so we sat out on their back patio. I ordered a tart n’ tasty black currant cider and Stephanie had a glass of red wine. Once we finished our drinks, we went back to the hotel and watched a few episodes of Chopped. Another successful day in Portland!

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Miles run in 2014: 145.5
Books read in 2014: 37

Portland Vacation 2014: Day One

Earlier this week (on Wednesday), Stephanie and I agreed to go on an impromptu vacation this weekend down to Portland. We’d been thinking about doing this since February, and the weather was forecast to be so nice this weekend (75-78 °F and sunny), so we reserved a hotel room for Friday and Saturday night. We ended up leaving early this afternoon, just a little after 12 pm, because we wanted to try and miss as much traffic as possible. Without any congestion on the road, the trip from Seattle to Portland generally takes about three hours. Although we made fairly good time for most of the way, there was a big ol’ accident just south of Tacoma, so it ended up taking us about three and a half hours. To help pass the time, we busted out some super fresh road trip tunes.  These consisted of Dormarion by Telekinesis, The Bones of What You Believe by Chvrches, Passive Me, Aggressive You by The Naked and the Famous, When It Was Now by Atlas Genius, and Lungs by Florence + the Machine. All of these albums are catchy and upbeat and lovely to drive/ride along to.

Once we crossed into Oregon, instead of driving straight to our hotel to check in (we’re staying about 20 minutes east of Portland), we continued up the Columbia River Gorge on I-84 for an extra half an hour and went and hiked around Latourell Falls. This waterfall plunges 224 feet (or 249 feet, depending on which part of the internet you choose to believe), cascading straight down off of a huge column of basalt. It is exceedingly impressive. And beautiful. And awe-inspiring. Also, the trailhead/parking lot is located only a short walk from the base of the main falls; if you’re itchin’ to see some impressive nature-y stuff, but are disinclined/unable to go hiking, this seems like it’d be a pretty good place to visit.

Andrew_Latourell_Main_FallsLatourell Falls is only 42 times taller than I am! This image captures the lower ~1/3 of the waterfall.

Stephanie and I, however, did come to hike, so we hopped on the loop trail that climbs to Upper Latourell falls. The roundtrip trek is about 2.5 miles and gains ~520 feet of elevation. It’s certainly not a strenuous hike, but I probably wouldn’t rate it as being “easy”. The way up isn’t particularly well marked, with lots of “unofficial” offshoots, but we made it to the top without too much backtracking. Upper Latourell Falls is about half as tall as the main falls and has some swoopy curves along its drop. Despite being somewhat less impressive, I think I actually enjoyed the upper falls more; I thought that its meandering descent made it more visually appealing. In any case, we had very nice conditions for the hike. The weather was warm, but there was a slight breeze to keep the bugs down, and although it was a late Friday afternoon, the trail was pretty empty. I don’t think we passed more than four or five groups of people on the entire hike.

Stephanie_Upper_Latourell_Fallstop of Latourell FallsUpper Latourell Falls (left) & the stream beginning its 250′ descent from the top of the Main Falls (right).

Once we got back to the car it was already after 6 pm, so we decided to go check into our hotel and head into Portland to find some dinner. For the trip back west, we forewent taking I-84 and opted to follow the aptly named Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway. This is a fairly labyrinthine route that teeters along shoulderless cliff faces and has navigates many blind curves and narrow bridges. It was way better than the interstate.

Stephanie_Vista_HouseThe view from Vista House, a scenic overlook along the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway, sure isn’t bad.

The last time we were in town, we happened across The Bye and Bye (a vegan bar in northeast Portland). Their victuals and their vibe were both quite good, so we elected to go back tonight for dinner. Stephanie got their Eastern Bowl (Portland has a crazy strong food-in-bowls presence), which came with approximately seventeen pounds of nutritional yeast-breaded tofu, broccoli, and brown rice with a tasty ginger-peanut sauce. I got the Weeping Tiger Sandwich which layered marinated tofu cutlets with lettuce, tomato, avocado, jalapeño, and Sriracha/miso mayo. Both entrées were very good. I also had an “adult” slushy made with gin+cucumber+mint. It was super refreshing: a perfect summery beverage to end a wonderful summery day.

Andrew_Bye_and_ByePretty excited for some food and drinks. And Sriracha!

We were a little pooped from all the sitting/driving/hiking, so we called it an early night and drove back to our hotel once we finished eating. Stephanie was looking forward to floppin’ into bed and watching some HGTV… but our hotel’s cable subscription didn’t include this channel, so we had to settle for the Food Network instead. Despite this disappointment, today was definitely a good start to our mini-vacation.

Note: Once again, although I’ll be writing/finishing these posts once I’m back in Seattle, I’ll be pre-dating these to the date on which things actually occurred.

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Miles run in 2014: 145.5
Books read in 2014: 37

Southwest Vacation: Day Eleven

Today was our last full day in Tucson. We decided to go spelunking (which for us means walking around on a guided tour in a cave for 90 minutes) and visited Kartchner Caverns State Park. This place is one of the most extensive living cave systems in the country (more than 2.5 miles of passageways!) and has a ton of rules/regulations in place to keep it as pristine as possible. You’re generally required to buy tickets ahead of time and need to arrive at least an hour before your scheduled tour, so once we arrived we had some time to kill. We peeked in to the little museum and walked around the butterfly garden until it was our turn to spelunk. There are actually two different tours you can sign up for at Kartchner Caverns: The Big Room and the Rotunda/Throne Room. We had tickets to visit The Big Room. Once the tour guide learns everyone’s name (so she can yell at you if you try to touch anything), you board a little tram that takes you several hundred yards up the hill to the entrance, where you descend into the mouth of the cave…

As we progressed on our tour, the guide pointed out many of the particularly impressive features (there were a lot!) which ranged from massive stalagmites to tiny, delicate “soda straws” that descended tens of feet from the ceiling. To think about how long it took these structures to form boggles the mind. Also, because it’s a living cave, several of the stalactites were currently wet and dripping; you wouldn’t expect a group of people to be excited about patiently/quietly standing in a circle for several minutes just to watch a single drip of water, but that’s totally what happened. Everyone seemed to be absolutely captivated by the complete majesty of the cave. It was nuts. It may seem like I’m being hyperbolic, but I promise you that I’m not. And the overall size/scope of this place! It just kept going and going… and from the outside, you have literally no idea that something so rare and beautiful and inspiring and mysterious is right below your feet; it just looks like you’re standing on some whatever hill in the middle of a cattle range. It’s crazy. If you’re ever in the Tucson area, I’d definitely recommend checking this place out.

KartchnerCavernsCameras weren’t allowed in the cave, so this is all you get to see.

Once we got back to Tucson, it was time to meet up with two of Stephanie’s friends for dinner. We went and got Mexican food at La Indita – a small restaurant downtown near the U of A campus. I got… a chile relleno. But this one was actually pretty disappointing! The breading was way too dense and the sauce was entirely lackluster. I’d actually been to this place on my last trip to Tucson and it was quite good, so maybe their food prep is just really inconsistent?

After dinner, we walked across the street and went to Mr. Heads (art gallery and bar) for trivia. It was actually their first official night hosting trivia, so turnout ended up being a little sad, but that just meant less competition. Because there weren’t a ton of people, the four of us ended up splitting into two groups. Ashely and I formed one team while Stephanie and Jessi made up another.

Andrew+Ashley trivia

Ashley and I were ‘The A-Team’. This led to these (unfortunate) hand gestures. We’re also 100% badasses.

The questions were pretty random and a lot of them were fairly dumb. There were eight rounds, so trivia was a little bit intense and went on for quite awhile. Ashley and I completely bombed the music section (bands/songs with insects in the title?), but we crushed the visual round where you had to identify the Sean Connery film by looking at a still from the movie (thank you Campus Video!). Overall, Ashley and I didn’t do very well (I think we got maybe 55 out of 80 points), but we still managed to win. Woo!

Jessi and Stephanie triviaJessi and Stephanie came in second place.

There wasn’t actually a grand prize for taking first place (because they were so disorganized), but I did win four “penny pints” by being the first person to answer four of the “bonus/lightning round” questions. I shared these with Ashley and Stephanie and Jessi because I’m such a nice guy/I didn’t wanna get crazy tipsy. Stephanie also won the door prize (a squirrel coffee mug; it’s not as cute as it sounds), so we were all ~big winners tonight. It was fun and although the bar was a little skeezy I would definitely go back again for trivia. (I should note that these last two photos are particularly low-quality because they were stolen from the Geeks Who Drink website. They were the group that hosted trivia.)

This San Diego/Tucson vacation has been a lot of fun, but I’m looking forward to going home tomorrow. We’ve been doing so many things! I kinda just wanna curl up for a few days and read a bunch of books and drink a bunch of coffee/tea…

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Miles run in 2014: 96.4
Books read in 2014: 22

Southwest Vacation: Day Ten

Today we went and hiked around Sabino Canyon. Like Mount Lemmon, Sabino Canyon is part of the Santa Catalina Mountains and is located in the Coronado National Forest. In fact, if you look at the map of the Catalina Highway that I posted a few days ago, you can see Sabino Canyon (located several miles south and a little west of Mount Lemmon/Summerhaven). Instead of hiking up to the top of the canyon, we decided to buy tickets for the tram which takes you up the 4.5 mile road to the “end” of the canyon. The tram ride takes about twenty minutes; on the way, a guide tells you a little bit about the history of Sabino canyon, as well as the flora/fauna you could potentially encounter (mountain lions!). Once you get to the top, you can either hike out or stay on the tram for a return trip back to the entrance. We opted to just hike back out (despite the fact that we were accompanied by Stephanie’s five and eight year old nephews – it did all work out, though).

Sabino canyon 1Thumbs up for cacti and fairly bleak landscapes.

The views are pretty severe (lots of cactus and rocks and small shrubs), except right along the creek bed, which has a surprising abundance of life (Sabino Canyon is designated as a “natural desert oasis”). In addition to the flora, there are also lots of interesting geological features. Sabino creek has flowing water ~10-11 months of the year and has eroded away large portions of the canyon. About two-thirds of the way up, there are a series of natural waterfalls/pools that are highlights of the hike. We (slowly) made our way down the canyon. The kids dragged their feet a little and stopped and splashed around in some of the pools, but they were real troopers about making the hike back towards the trailhead. It was pretty hot and I was impressed by their (relative) resilience.

Sabino canyon gneiss 2Sabino Canyon cliff face

Veins of gneiss are prevalent in the canyon (left). Also, that cliff face (right) is ~500′ tall. Perspective!

Once we made it back to the car, after hiking/walking around in the sun for ~three hours, everyone was thirsty and hungry so we drove over to El Charro for some iced tea/soda and Mexican food. I got (surprise!) a chile relleno. It was delicious! Their verde sauce was amazing. I think I liked the relleno I had at La Parrilla Suiza a teensy bit better, but they were both SO good. If I lived in Tucson, I would eat these all the time and get so fat. But it would be worth it.

Later that evening, instead of going out again to watch basketball, we decided to just stay at Stephanie’s. The University of Arizona was playing tonight, so it was A Big Deal. (Tucson is very much a basketball town.) One of Stephanie’s friends came over, as did several of her family members, and we all watched the game together. There were lots of chips and guacamole and vegan chili cheese dip and popcorn and vegan chicken tenders… I was also drinking some moderately fancy hard cider from Fox Barrel (Pacific pear and blackberry pear). When you think about it, the joy of watching sports is at least 50% related to eating delicious snacks and drinking tasty drinks. Arizona lead for the whole game and ended up winning by a lot, so the evening was very enjoyable.

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Miles run in 2014: 96.4
Books read in 2014: 22