Westward Trip – Part 2 – Oregon

The continuation of the ins and outs of my husband and my week-long westward trip to visit friends and sight see.  If you did not already read it please check out the first part here.

 Day 5 – Wed. May 18, 2016

My friend Megan’s apartment is located in the western portion of Portland.  When we woke up Wed. morning it was very clear outside which enabled us to see Mount St. Helens in the distance.  She took us to the building’s rooftop where we had great views of the city, Mount St. Helens as well as Mount Hood.

We began our day with a short walk to Washington Park.  A statue of Sacajawea is in the park, a reminder of her help given to Lewis and Clark in their westward expedition.  As a history buff even I had forgotten that their ultimate landing spot was Oregon.  The rose gardens located in the park were beyond beautiful.  It is known as a “test garden” for new varieties of roses and I saw colors of roses that I never knew existed.

Our next stop in the park was the Japanese Garden.  There is a fee charged for this, but the authenticity makes it worth the visit.  There are various paths that intertwine with each other to go past gardens, ponds, waterfalls, a tea house and sand and stone garden.  Tranquil is one of the best words to describe this place though at times we could hear nearby construction of a new area which disrupted our peace.  Tours are given each day but we preferred to explore on our own.

After a quick lunch at Meg’s apartment we set out to travel the historic Columbia River highway, aka Route 30.  This highway was designed to pass several of Oregon’s natural treasures while seeming to blend into the scenery.  The first stop was the Vista House.  There are great views of the Columbia River Gorge and inside there is plenty of historical information on the house, highway and the area in general.

Our next stop was Multnomah Falls.  This is the 4th largest waterfall in the nation.  There are several viewing areas at the base of the falls and about a quarter mile above the base.  The ultimate viewing spot, however, is at the top.  The trail to climb the falls is a little over a mile in length and includes 11 switch backs.  We only had to stop once while hiking to the top, but it was a solid workout in its own right and the views made it worth the effort.  There are several other waterfalls along the highway as well, making the area more condensed with waterfalls than any other area in the country.

We then stopped at Bonneville Lock & Dam, an Army Corps of Engineers ran facility.  We arrived not long before closing, so we did not get to fully explore the area.  We did get to go to the bottom level and view the fish ladders that aide the fish in getting through the dam.  One unique fish we saw was a lamprey which is a species of fish that has existed since prehistoric times.

There are several other locations along the Columbia River highway that can easily consume a day or more depending on how long one chooses to stay at each spot.  By this point in the day we were fairly hungry though so we headed back to Portland and enjoyed some Indian food at a place not far from the apartment.

Day 6 – Thurs. May 19, 2016

Portland provided us its stereotypical cloudy, rainy weather, so we chose to explore the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry (OMSI).  There are tons of hands on activities at this museum which makes it fun, but also a big draw for families and school groups.  We enjoyed the various brain teaser activities sprinkled throughout the museum, and some we were unable to solve.  A planetarium is part of the museum so we bough the pass that allowed us to pick a movie featured there.  We were shown various constellations that would be visible in the coming months.

After this we explored the 2nd floor of the museum which was less crowded and which I found more enjoyable.  One area highlighted the sustainability and conservationism of Oregon.  Meg had told us that plastic bags are banned in Oregon; you can buy them but all stores provide paper bags instead.  They also have “tool libraries” which allow people to borrow tools for projects in the same way you would borrow a library book.  While the state welcomes people moving there from all over the country it does face a challenge in maintaining the eco-friendly atmosphere it has created.

We had a late lunch at The Green Dragon Bistro & Pub.  This place is a must for any craft beer lovers as it has 56 rotating taps.  For non-beer drinkers like myself it does also have some hard ciders and other drinks.  Nearly all of the beers on tap came from breweries within Oregon as the state has a very high amount of microbreweries.  The state is very friendly to entrepreneurs which is another reason so many people have chosen to move there in recent years.

Dessert was ice cream at Salt & Straw – one of TripAdvisor’s top places to visit.  They provide samples of any flavor you want which is helpful given their extensive list of unique flavors.  I sampled both sea salt with caramel ribbons and chocolate gooey brownie before choosing the latter.  Jason sampled both honey & lavender and stumpton coffee & burnside bourbon and went with the latter.

One of the most surprising things I found about Portland is that it is not the enormous city I expected nor is it what I would call “tourist-y”.  While it is a very large city, it is far from a metropolis which means it is a lot quieter and the traffic is more manageable.  There are no shops selling “I visited Portland” t-shirts or mugs.  Walking around the area is a very pleasant experience.  Portland provides the best of both worlds in terms of restaurants, shops and cultural experiences without the chaos of most cities.

Day 7 – Fri. May 20, 2016

Our last day was “beach day” as we headed west of Portland to Rockaway Beach.  Of course we had no intention of getting in the water, but one cannot go that far west without seeing the Pacific Ocean.  Within a half hour of leaving Portland we were surrounded by state forest.  I definitely understood why people say they see Bigfoot in those woods; it seems like an endless array of green and brown.

The town of Rockaway Beach is a cute beach town complete with motels and shops.  We parked near the visitors’ center and strolled up and down the beach.  It amazed me how far out the waves started; I guess I was just used to the typical tourist-driven beaches with created sand bars.  It was mesmerizing.  A few others were exploring the coast as well with one brave older man boogie-boarding in a full body suit.  There are not really any seashells to be found but rather small rocks.  It is definitely a “bonfire beach” and certain spots had driftwood that had been turned into make shift benches.

We had lunch at a local place and had hoped to visit Cedar Old Growth Nature Preserve.  For some reason though the directions online did take us to a trail head but there was no parking to be found as it was behind a trailer park.  We thought we found an alternate way in, but upon driving further up the hill we found a chain across the road.  Given there were no signs anywhere we could only figure that either there are certain hours and it was not open for the season, or it no longer existed.

Needing a new place to explore for the afternoon we ended up at Cape Meares.  Pictures cannot do justice for the views of the cliffs and Pacific Ocean from Cape Meares.  We toured the lighthouse and learned a lot about the history of the area including how the 4 lenses from the lighthouse were all stolen when it was decommissioned in the 1960s and ultimately all returned when the site was re-opened as a tourist attraction.  One of the more unique natural wonders in the area was the Octopus Tree which I had never even heard of prior to our arrival.  The immense beauty of the area cannot be stated enough; anyone who ever visits Portland needs to drive to Cape Meares.

We had our last meal at McMenamins Rams Head.  Apparently the owners of the location find unique places in and around Portland to turn into new places such as restaurants, hotels and concert venues.  Having ate a late lunch I could not handle a full meal so instead enjoyed raspberry cheesecake which was amazing.

Day 8 – Sat. May 21, 2016

My least favorite day of the trip and not even because it was the end of vacation.  Rather it was because we had to spend the whole day traveling.  Security at Portland’s airport took longer to get through than I expected given it is not an overly large airport.  Once we arrived at Ohare we had about 4 hours to kill no thanks to our original flight home being changed twice months before leaving.  Jason and I got lunch (though given the time change it was more like dinner) at Chilis and spent most of the time alternating between reading and surfing the web.  We used one of the charging stations, and I was disappointed to find that “Free Internet” on the built-in tablets equated to internet that does not connect at all.

Our flight did arrive early back in Harrisburg, but it seemed to take ages for our bagged to be unloaded.  I was also disappointed in that having survived multiple flights, both my key chains were busted off of the rings on our checked bag.  I knew this could happen which was why I put 2 of them on there, but it annoyed me just the same.  Cramer Airport Parking was again outstanding in arriving promptly to pick us as well as a few others up.  They dropped each of us off exactly at our vehicles and checked us out promptly.  We arrived home around 1am and I can attest that jet lag coming east is a lot worse than jet lag going west.

Overall our trip was great; our friends were wonderful hosts and filled our days with plenty of new things to see and do.  I gained more flying experience and look forward to our next adventure!

Westward Trip – Part 1 – Chicago, IL

The following is the first part of the ins and outs of my husband and my week-long westward trip to visit friends and sight see.

Day 1 – Sat. May 14th, 2016

I will start by saying that when I initially booked this trip in Dec. 2015 I had a straight through flight from Harrisburg to Chicago.  About a month before the trip I received an email stating the flight had changed and we would be flying to Dulles in DC first, have a 44 min layover, then fly to Chicago.  I think that airlines should be required to give people money back when they do this as it is annoying.

In any case we utilized Cramer Airport parking for the first time as a shuttle to and from the airport and a place to keep our car for the week.  I can’t say enough compliments about them.  As soon as we got there and were told where to park the shuttle bus pulled up behind us and took us to the airport; we did not have to wait for any other people.  They only charge $8 per day which is very cheap compared to $20 a day at the airport and because I’m a AAA member it was only $7 a day.

We arrived overly early because I am always paranoid of being late even though Harrisburg’s airport is so small and security is super fast.  We had drinks at Phillips to pass the time and chatted with a gentleman who was flying home to South Carolina.  The flight was uneventful though when we landed in DC I felt slightly nauseated which I attributed to the descent.

Dulles was gigantic compared to Harrisburg.  We arrived in terminal B and had to get to terminal C which I mistakenly assumed we could just walk to.  We actually had to take an underground train to the terminal which is the closest I’ve come to riding on a subway.  Again our flight to Chicago was uneventful and Alecia and Ryan easily found us to pick us up.

The four of us went out for Chicago style pizza at a local place not far from their house.  Ever since I lived in the Scranton area I consider myself a “pizza snob” and York County pizza tends to not be very high quality in my opinion.  Chicago pizza cannot be compared to Scranton pizza; it is equally good though entirely different.  Pizza Hut “deep dish” is merely thick dough; true deep dish pizza is filled with toppings and requires a fork to eat it.  We went out for ice cream after to a quaint ice cream shop that has board games built into some of its tables; Ryan and Jason enjoyed a friendly chess match at one before we headed to Alecia and Ryan’s for the evening.

Day 2 – Sun. May 15, 2016

The weather proved to be true to Chicago in terms of chilliness and windiness.  We did not let that stop us from exploring the city though.  We first went to a local shopping area and explored IKEA to kill some time before lunch.  I had to steer Jason away from the cup section as he loves to add to his collection.  Lunch was at BBQ Smoque which is on the outskirts of the city.  Their portions are large and easily shared by 2 people.  Jason and I shared pulled brisket and I had mac and cheese while he had cornbread and cole slaw.  Completing lunch was a stop at Twisted Spoke, a whiskey bar whose entire back of the bar is nothing but various varieties of whiskey.

We then headed deeper into the city to visit the Field Museum.  The special exhibit going on featured artifacts and Terracotta warriors from the first emperor of China’s reign.  I loved seeing this as history has always been my favorite subject.  Other exhibits we visited included displays of animals from various regions, what life is like on remote islands and minerals and gem stones.  We could’ve easily spent a full day there but had dinner reservations at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba.

That restaurant turned out to be my favorite of the trip, and it was the first time I had ever eaten at a tapas style place.  It was fun picking and choosing from their vast menu and sharing with each other.  We did 2 “rounds” where the waiter took our order and the plates were brought out at various times to share, and then he came back and took a second order.  One would not think that smaller entrees could fill a person, but having samples from so many different types makes a full meal.  My favorite was the chorizo wrapped date and cheese; I ended up ordering 2 of them.  I finished off with dessert of butterscotch  custard which again was small, about 2-3 bites, and was delectable.  I really wish more restaurants would do small desserts like that as normally I do not have room for dessert after eating a large meal.  We then spent the evening in playing Munchkin before turning in for the night.

Day 3 – Mon. May 16, 2016

Unfortunately Ryan had to work, so he did not get to join us on our venture back to the city, so Alecia played tour guide.  We started out in Millennium Park which is one of my favorite places in Chicago.  It is just pretty and relaxing and a great place for locals to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  Of course we had to take the traditional picture by “The Bean”.  Jason was excited to visit Buckingham Fountain which for those who may not know, is featured in the opening of Married with Children.

The weather was gorgeous and actually became warmer than when I had visited in June 2011.  We walked along Lake Michigan to Navy Pier which is probably my favorite location in the city.  I think because it reminds me of a boardwalk atmosphere.  We had lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. which was great, and my only complaint was that our waitress did not ask us any Forrest Gump trivia like some of them do.  They offer some of their mixed drinks as souvenirs by providing the glass, so we ended up with 3 of them to bring home which made Jason happy.  I’m not a shrimp person so I enjoyed southern fried chicken that put KFC to shame.

The outside areas of Navy Pier were the same as I had remembered, but much of the inside has changed to welcome new shops and eateries.  A stop in one of the shops resulted in Jason adding to his “cup collection” yet again with the purchase of a large mug that has the Chicago skyline on it.  We visited the conservatory which was humid but pretty and had fun watching the jumping fountains.  On our way back to the car we saw more fountains, this time the “spitting fountains” which fortunately were turned on when we walked by them.

That evening we had dinner at The Girl & The Goat which is a very famous restaurant that requires reservations 2-3 months in advance.  Most of the food was more exotic in nature than I tend to usually eat, but I was brave enough to try the goat liver mousse and pig face that Jason ordered.  Fortunately the pig face was more of a patty and not the literal side of the pig’s face that I feared viewing.  Neither tickled my fancy, but he enjoyed both.  I preferred the ham frites which were very thin french fries coated in a ham seasoning of sorts and served with cheddar beer cheese and a smoked tomato aioli.  A tip for anyone who may ever venture here – they tend to promote this place as a “tapas-style” restaurant as well and encourage each person to order 2-3 plates but the servings are MUCH larger than the tapas we had at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba and one plate per person would be sufficient.  We had ordered 5 total, and it was more food than 3 of us could eat.

Day 4 – Tues. May 17, 2016

Having explored all of the key areas in the city we wanted, Jason and I took this as a day to relax.  We went with Alecia to a local movie theater and saw The Jungle Book.  I am a die-hard animated Disney fan, so I was happy in how true they stayed to the original version.  I did gripe that Kaa was made a female snake as in the animated version Kaa is a male.  Jason and I had never tried Chipotle, so that is where we ate for lunch.  I’m plain-Jane with most food, so I stuck to chicken tacos which were good while he had a steak burrito.  After watching a few episodes of The Office on Netflix with Alecia we were ready to head to the airport.  We flew Spirit Airlines which has low air fare because they charge for everything, including your carry-on and if you ask for water on the plane.  Because they are such a small airline though going through security did not take overly long which was nice given most of the security at Ohare they recommend arriving 2 hours in advance to get through in time for the flight.  Jason and I got a quick bite to eat at Goose Island and off to Portland, Oregon we went!

Part 2 – Oregon