Category Archives: USA

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

You can have a pet fish in your room at the Monaco; but maybe not if you bring your cat to this pet-friendly hotel.

Portland was nice – people friendly, a very walkable city.  Clearly, marijuana is very ingrained in the culture here, as there seem to be references everywhere. In places, it had a tiny bit of an Asheville vibe (but I like much Asheville better).

We loved our quirky hotel (the Kimpton Hotel Monaco is a re-purposed department store building built over 100 years ago). We even tried a beer flight to get in the Portland brewery spirit.

 

 

A must for me was a visit to Powell’s, the largest independent book store in the U.S.  Covering one block and three floors, at first glance it is overwhelming.  But the friendly staff and tips along the shelves made it a very comfortable experience. Tips on best sellers, special awards and staff favorites with detailed descriptions give the stacks an almost wine-shop ambiance.  I needed much more time. Powell’s is located in the Pearl District, and it is jam-packed with all sorts of restaurants, taverns, and micro-breweries.  While sampling local beers, we eavesdropped on a trivia contest being held on the patio below us and were very glad we were not competing, the music/”name a thing” category was a killer.  For my trivia buddies: I only knew one – Wild (as in “Wild Thing”).

We enjoyed walking on the beautiful Willamette River-front and downtown area.  What we didn’t enjoy was the number of homeless people who seemed to be living on the streets. Portland is known for many things, and one is the birthplace of the food truck craze, and it was fun to see the incredible array of food trucks scattered in clusters throughout town. Even the airport continues the laid-back vibe with live music to entertain, and a movie theater featuring short films by local film-makers (take note Miami).

In the lobby of the Kimpton Hotel Monaco.

A final word about our hotel. Every night from 5-6 they host a reception with local wine and some really excellent entertainment. We really enjoyed the musicians and singers during our two visits. The exceptional staff was also very pleasant and helpful. Combined with the ambiance and a few other special treats, it made the perfect place to stay.

Note: Although Powell’s is open till 11 PM, the Rare Book Room closes at 7 PM.

  

 

A Toast to Oregon

Anne Amie Vineyards.

 

 

It’s wine country time as we wind down and prep to head home. Oregon is famous for Pinot Noirs, one of our favorites, and we didn’t miss the chance to check out a few wineries.

Leaving the coast, we headed to the interior towards Eugene, driving along the beautiful Siuslaw River and then north towards the wine country and eventually, Portland.  We took off on one tangent* (in honor of our good friend Jim) to go through Corvallis, the home of Jim and the Oregon State Beavers. From there it was farmlands of golden, and occasionally russet, fields of grain, stacks of baled hay and the occasional flock of sheep.  We learned this area is the grass seed capital of the U.S., and we saw endless fields planted with rye, as well as some with radish and pea seeds.  Since I can only identify field crops of corn or tobacco you might wonder how I knew this . . . . well, there were a few small signs.

As we started seeing vineyards, we also passed groves of hazelnut trees, another huge crop in Oregon; they vie with turkey as the world’s leading producers.

A painting at Rex Hill really captures the look of the area.

The area surrounding the small towns of McMinnville, Dundee, Carlton, Yamhill and Newberg is home to hundreds of vineyards and wineries.  After studying brochures about dozens of wineries, we selected a couple to visit.  First stop, Anne Amie Vineyards.  A beautiful setting that turned out to be our favorite Pinot Noir of the day.  We also did tastings at Willakenzie Estate and Rex Hill before turning the car towards the imposing Mt. Hood and Portland.

* Only a local will know that, ironically, the town we turned off the I-5 to Corvallis, is Tangent.

Keep on Moving Down the Coast.

Last night the stars were brilliant.  It looked like the Big Dipper was being projected right in front of me.  Sadly, we had to move on from the stunning Whale Cove Inn today, but not before one more whale came by to say farewell, along with the harbor seals and bald eagle watching it all.  Fortunately, the gorgeous vistas didn’t end.

We headed south down Highway 101 to the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area and drove two miles up to an elevation of 800’ –  the highest viewpoint accessible by car on the Oregon Coast.  We enjoyed the incredible views from the Whispering Spruce Trail and seeing the shelter built in the 30’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. During World War II, the site was used to watch for enemy submarines.  This park is under the control of the USDA’s Forest Service and rangers were on-hand to explain local wildlife, as well as information about invasive species growing in the area.

We moved on down the coast to the Heceta Head Lighthouse, the most photographed Oregon lighthouse. Dating from 1892, it is still working, flashing every 10 seconds, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The former keeper’s house is now a six-bedroom B&B run by a concessionaire of the U.S. Forest Service (we did not stay there, but it would be interesting).

Nearby are the Sea Lion Caves, a privately owned concession that takes you down an elevator 208’ inside a 125’ high cave that is a hangout for Stellar Sea Lions.  During the summer months, the Sea Lions also spend a lot of time sunning on the rock ledges just outside the cave. The bulls are loud, the pups are boisterous and they all smell.

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area was a completely new coastal look; massive dunes, sea grasses and wind, lots of wind.  We walked up to the top of some of the dunes.  I cannot say it was fun.  Trudging up through ankle-deep sand, getting stuck with the sharp grasses, wind practically knocking me over . . . the folks on the ATVs have the right idea. That would be a much better way to see the dunes, and obviously a very popular activity in this area.

We are staying in Florence for the night.  Mostly this is a jumping off point for the dunes; there is a cute Old Town with restaurants and shops.  As long as we can keep eating seafood and there is ice cream, we are good.

 

Oregon Beaches as Far as You Can See

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area and the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

The thing that strikes me about these Oregon beaches is how vast they are.  One after another, they line the coast.  All with deep, soft sand and tides that have huge tidal variances of about eight feet. They also seem so pristine to me.  There are no shells or debris; just occasional driftwood. And even though this is the busy season, it’s relatively uncrowded. There is plenty of time to interact with the knowledgeable park rangers.

The small town of Depoe Bay bills itself as the world’s smallest navigable port, and it is an active fishing village and jumping off point for many whale-watching excursions. Normally, I’m a fanatic for the whale-watching trips, but since we’d recently been on one in California and have seen so many whales from our hotel, we opted for other activities. We enjoyed the views and chatting with a local fisherman.  The port may be small but it was certainly very active on this day.

“Mother-in-Law” fish.

We headed back down the coast to see a few more of those amazing beaches.  First stop was Cape Foulweather, named by Captain James Cook in 1778.  The whales were out and we spent some time just watching from the lookout house/ranger outpost at the summit.

At the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area we visited Yaquina Head Lighthouse, at 93’ the tallest lighthouse in Oregon, and spent some time hunting for sea life in the beautiful tidepools at Cobble Beach.

Creatures in the tidepool.

With seals lounging on nearby rocky outcroppings and bird colonies nearby, we found large numbers of anemone and urchins, as well as a few ochre sea stars and a bright yellow sea slug.

After another great seafood lunch, this time at Nye Beach in Newport.  Newport is a really nice town with several areas to walk around.  They have a lot of activities to offer including an aquarium and marine science center, but we chose to visit another lighthouse, this one the only wooden lighthouse in Oregon, the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, which was only in service from 1871-1874 and actually sits on top of the lightkeeper’s home.

Another observation – everyone we have met here is so nice.  Helpful, calm, happy to answer questions; it’s a pleasure to be in Oregon.

Newport.

Cape Foulweather.

 

Can’t Beat Luxury & Wildlife Combo in Depoe Bay

This has been a lovely day. We’ve journeyed down the coast to Depoe Bay, and are staying in an absolutely wonderful B&B on Whale Cove (Whale Cove Inn). In addition to more wonderful views, we had a terrific lunch in Pacific City at the Pelican Pub & Brewery in a perfect place by the dunes at Cape Kiwanda. Cars can be driven on the beach, and the dory fleet of small boats also land on the beach; there is a lot of traffic on this beach.  We did see a couple of beached dory boats but, regrettably, I did not get pictures.

I did, however, get a picture of the rock formation known as the “other Haystack Rock.”

We stopped in Otter Rock and saw the Devil’s Punch Bowl.  The tide was high and the wind was howling, it was beautiful.  Pictures do not do it justice; the golden rock formations are so solidly massive and in stark contrast to the swirling sea.

We continued on to (the west coast) Newport and its quaint Nye Beach and Historic Newport Bayfront on Yaquina Bay.  The Bayfront area is home to a busy working fishing fleet, in addition to a U.S. Coast Guard Station, NOAA’s Pacific research fleet and all sorts of shops, galleries, and restaurants. We enjoyed a fabulous dinner of Dungeness Crab soup and fresh tuna at Local Ocean as we watched the last boats come in for the day. This is known as the Dungeness Crab capital, and our timing was good since crab season ends in mid-August and they are already in short supply.

The icing on the cake was returning to our room and seeing a Gray Whale hanging out in the cove outside our window. As it rolled to feed, it kept showing one side of its tail fluke, known as “sharking.” Perfect.

Touring the Oregon Coast

Vista along Oswald West State Park.

We are following our friends’ recommendations while on the North Coast, so our first destination today was Ecola State Park for the dramatic views of Crescent Beach and a long-range view of Haystack Rock.

We enjoyed the lofty vistas in the Oswald West State Park and the cute Cape Meares Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is near Tillamook (of cheese fame) and off a road called the Three Capes Loop.  In reality, it’s a series of roads and, at least for now, is not a loop; so it was back out the way we came. 

The town of Cannon Beach is clearly the most upscale in the area and very nice.  The streets are lined with cute shops and restaurants.  The colorful flowers are all so vibrant against the gray wood buildings and seem much larger than normal – it’s like they are all on steroids. Why can’t I get my hydrangeas to grow in these amazing purple and fuchsia colors?

Indian Beach.

It’s no surprise, we’ve had some great seafood in the area. Wonderful salmon, clam chowder, and cheese bread to name a few. Tonight, after dinner, we bundled up, which in my case meant five layers of clothes, and headed to the beach.  Our hotel builds a great community bonfire nightly and brings out all the fixings for S’mores. It was cold, but the conversation was interesting, kids were cute, wood fire smelled great, the sound of the waves was relaxing, and I even got my husband to take his first (and only) bite of a S’more.

Did you spot the “Fake news” comment on the Shark sign?

View from Ecola State Park.

 

Haystack!

We have close friends who have a get-a-way place in Cannon Beach, and they have shared many wonderful stories about the Oregon Coast. I’ve wanted to visit the area for a long time and I am just very sorry our friends could not be with us.

We headed about an hour and a half from Portland to the Oregon coast. It is strikingly beautiful. Raw, windswept, vast, and COLD.  I still have trouble with the concept of being on a beach with a blanket and windbreaks in July (we saw no swimsuits)! We drove north on Highway 101 along the coast to the historic town of Astoria (1792) and enjoyed seeing the Victorian homes as well as the locations used in the movie Kindergarten Cop. This is Lewis and Clark territory, and the imposing Astoria Column was built in 1925 to commemorate their expedition as well as other westward expansion. You don’t need to climb the 164 steps, the views from the top of the 30-acre site are impressive.

Heading back to Cannon Beach we also saw the cute resort town of Seaside.  I loved the starfish lights decorating the town’s light poles.

Walking on the beach here is pure pleasure.  The beaches are huge and not crowded (by our Florida standards), and at low tide, you can walk right up to the famous Haystack Rock, the visual most often associated with the Oregon Coast.  Haystack is 235’ high and part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and looks much larger in person and dominates the landscape for miles.  Impressive.

Amtrak Cascades Route

What a great way to travel from Vancouver BC to Portland Oregon. The only downside is it does leave at 6:30 AM, but it gets you into Portland at about 3 PM, rested, fed and entertained.  It’s an absolutely beautiful route through Washington, the water views are so pretty it’s not even hard to stay awake.

Business Class seats are worth the extra fee, and taking two single seats (one behind the other) on the right side of the train car is really the best for maximizing your viewing pleasure. It’s comfortable and on par with any first-class European train. This train did not have a dining car, but the Bistro service and quality was not bad once the train got underway.  Prior to departure, there was quite a line.

It was hard to get an answer about what time we needed to be at the station (since we would also be going through customs). At one point, we were told by an Amtrak representative the station did not even open til 6 AM; that is not true, staff is there from about 5 AM.  Business Class and Global Entry have a separate line for check-in with no wait.  Customs officers board the train at the border, but it a quick walk-through and a quick glance at passenger passports.

All Aboard!

Portland’s Station.

The Final Tasting. Our Last Day in Bourbon Country.

  

Not all distilleries are huge with recognizable names.  The bourbon industry has exploded in recent years and there are dozens of new products on the market, from both established distilleries and a few new kids on the block. Be sure to check out the businesses known as Craft Distilleries.  In 2012, the Bourbon Trail launched a Craft Tour. Craft doesn’t necessarily mean new but is more size-related.  Family owned and run Willett, for example, is more than 80 years old and is one of 13 distilleries featured in the craft passport. And remember, not all distilleries are included in the official trail – for instance, Buffalo Trace.

Every property had its unique features and personality and although the basic principles for distilling are the same – grind the grains – cook the mash – ferment and strain the product – store in charred white oak barrels – and age for at least 2 years.  Jim, our tour guide at Willett wins the award for the best guide with hard facts.  He really explained the details of the cooking process.  It was a fitting conclusion to our series of tours and at least one in our group felt they were now ready to distill their own.

Located in Bardstown, known as “Bourbon Capital of the World”, Willett is undergoing a renovation to their visitor’s center as well as an addition that will include two bed and breakfast-style facilities and some lakeside cabins. The Willet tour ($12) also featured a look at their gleaming copper pot still, the inspiration for their beautiful bottle design.

In this Rickhouse, they were also curing hams for a James Beard nominated chef with restaurants in Nashville and Charleston, putting that Angel’s Share to good use. So logical, I will have to make it a point to try some one day soon.

We have sampled many bourbons new to us and have learned how to study the color, identify the smells (gotta smell it with your mouth open), how it tastes on different parts of the tongue, and the “finish” after you swallow.

In the final analysis, as one guide said, “the best bourbon is the one you like.”

 

Favorite Fact: I have two here. Bourbon is taxed annually, from the first year it is in the barrel.  To prevent the “burn” that some bourbons produce after you swallow (and which distillers call a “Kentucky Hug”) don’t inhale – it is actually caused by the fumes you breathe as opposed to the liquor you drink.  

 

Bourbon Trail: www.kyboubontrail.com

Craft Tour:  http://www.kybourbontrail.com/craft-tour

Willets:  www.willettdistillery.com

Let Me Count the Distilleries . . . Day 3: More Bourbon.

There are at least 33 distilleries in Kentucky, responsible for 95% of the bourbon produced in the U.S. And, bourbon can only be produced in the U.S. and must be 51% corn, stored at a maximum of 62.5% alcohol (125 proof).

Today we take in three more distilleries and tastings with a Mint Julep Tour. Our terrific guide Wendy and driver Don showed us more of the beautiful Kentucky countryside and filled us in on a bit of the history and happenings in Louisville as well as the fast-growing distillery industry.

We began the day about an hour out of Louisville at the Makers Mark Distillery.  What a beautiful setting.  As an incredible bonus – the Dale Chihuly glass installations that will be in place until the end of October 2017. The appearance of this property was a definite favorite.  I loved the storybook-style architecture with the bright red shutters and their liquor bottle cutouts.  This site is too beautiful to miss on any bourbon tour.

At Makers, we had the chance to dip our own bottle in their famous red sealing wax, and so I did.

After lunch, we circled back to the cute town of Bardstown to stop at Heaven Hill and the Bourbon Heritage Center for a look and tasting.  Probably most famous for Elijah Craig bourbons and their new product Larceny, this property is not the distilling site, which is located in Louisville.  I was not a fan of these bourbons but did purchase some yummy Evan Williams bourbon-infused chocolate sauce.  Chocolate in any form goes very well with bourbon and each distillery has offered a delicious chocolate candy with their tasting.

Vintage Jim Beam Bottles.

At the end of the day, we hit the Jim Beam facility – distillers of my favorites – Knob Creek and Basil Hayden. This is one huge commercial enterprise and I had the opportunity to place my personal bottle of Knob Creek on the production line and seal the black wax with my thumbprint. A final touch was engraving the bottle with a commemorative message – a perfect souvenir (and one I can drink!)

It was a long, but fascinating day topped off by sharing a famous Hot Brown (turkey, toast, bacon and Mornay sauce, better than you can imagine) back at The Brown Hotel.

 

My bottle of Knob Creek in production.

Favorite Fact: Margie Samuels named Makers Mark, designed the bottle, logo and the red wax tradition. A master marketer, she was the wife of Bill Samuels, Sr who created the Maker’s recipe. She played a major role in the success of the company, significantly at a time when women generally had no role or place in the industry.

 

 

Mint Julep Tours: www.mintjuleptours.com

Makers Mark: www.makersmark.com

Heaven Hill: www.heavenhill.com

Jim Beam: www.jimbeam.com

Bourbon Trail: www.kyboubontrail.com

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