A Tasty Trek through Flavor Town (Portland Style)

It often amazes me how much time I spend dreaming about and researching the places I want to visit when we travel.  I have a clear vision of the two of us of walking down tiny off-the-beaten-path streets in towns and villages all over the world.  They all seem so interesting, unusual, and well… just more darned fun than my own home town.  I know it’s human nature to think the “grass is greener” in someone else’s field, but lately I’ve been ignoring the town I have professed to love.  Heck, I chose to move here not once, but twice.  That must mean something.  Since we are doing more local travel these days to save for our adventure in Spain, I thought it would be a good time to explore Portland once again and share some of my finds.  Truth be told,  I’m also hoping to entice a home exchange or two.  And what better way than to share our own local adventures.

We’re training for our big walk on the Camino de Santiago and have covered so many miles and made so many interesting discoveries that  I’ve joked about starting my own on foot tour company.  Not exactly the shuffle, eat, shuffle, eat tour I’m going to tell you about in this post, but a more robust 5 or 6 mile tour with a stop for lunch or a glass of wine and a nibble.  Kind of a walking workout, sight-seeing and food experience combined.  It is amazing what you see when you travel at about 3 mph.  You have time to take photos and you burn enough calories to alleviate any guilt about the eating and drinking.   I think I’m on to something.  Hubs thinks I’m crazy.  Maybe.

Since Portland has become the go-to destination for foodie culture, and since we love to eat, an Epicurean Excursion offered by Portland Walking Tours seemed like a match made in heaven.   And it was.  Three hours flew by as we enjoyed downtown Portland’s culinary scene, enjoying the smells, sampling the tastes and sipping some tasty wine along the way.  Our starting point was the Heathman Hotel where we all gathered on the mezzanine to meet our tour guide.   There were about 10 of us in the group, locals and out-of-towners, all ready for fun and food.

We stopped at ten locations – specialty stores, restaurants, a wine bar, and a cupcake shop, where we learned about finishing salts, tasted olive oils and vinegars, enjoyed a back of the house kitchen tour and met with several of local chefs.  Our little band of food explorers meandered through Southwest Portland and into the Pearl District.  An easy mile and a half walk during which time our guide kept up a running and very informative conversation offering tidbits of Portland history, architecture, farm and food facts and a joke or three.  He was a wealth of local knowledge.  A tour guide by day and an improv comedian by night.  At each stop we learned about the farm to table food culture that is alive and well in Portland and enjoyed a sample or two.  Some larger and some rather tiny, but all delicious.  Add in two glasses of wine and several mini cupcakes and we ended our afternoon feeling well-fed, well-informed and very well-entertained.

Taking a tour in your own town is a great way to re-kindle the romance with your city.  You’ll learn things only tourists the take time to find out and enjoy a fun afternoon with your sweetie, your kids or your visiting dignitaries.   There are two companies in Portland currently doing food tours.  Portland Walking Tours and Forktown Food Tours.  We signed up with Portland Walking Tours.  The cost was $59 each, so it’s not cheap, but it was a lot of fun and we will do it again.  Next up, since Portland has become the food cart capital of the world, I think we might sign up with Forktown for their Food Cart Tour.

Portland has so much to offer.   It’s a vibrant city filled with art, culture, history, natural beauty, wonderful quirky people, and food, fabulous food.  Oh, and artisan coffee shops, wineries, brewpubs and the hubbie’s new fav – micro-distilleries.  Now there’s a tour he’d really enjoy!

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Lost Our Virginity ~

Yup, as of this past weekend, the hubs and I are no longer home exchange virgins!  Finally… we found a match… and it was so good.  And so easy.  We are completely hooked.  Mr. Just-a-Backpack is already asking me to do it again.  In fact, he wants to do it any time, any place.  Oh, Baby!

I always get a buzz of excitement when an Inquiry from Home Exchange pops up in my email.   My first thought – Wow, somebody chose us!  What can I say, I have a strong need for people to like me.   That’s quickly followed by the thrill of opening the email to discover what new adventure awaits. And finally, there’s the reality of can we make this one work.  Or in some cases, do we even want to.  Sorry, but the week in Minneapolis didn’t seem worth the cost of two plane tickets.

Anyhow, back to this particular exchange.  A few weeks ago we received an inquiry from Dawn and Ram, a lovely couple who live in Toledo, Oregon (a few miles inland from the Port of Newport).  They were interested in snuggling Mr. Ricky in exchange for our feeding “the girls” – their 12 chickens, and gathering eggs.  Could we work out an exchange weekend?  We could and YES we would!  So, a match was hatched.  We emailed back and forth, exchanged information, made a plan and Voila! at 9:30 on Saturday morning we were off on an adventure.  We left flowers on the table, snacks in the refrigerator, wine on the counter and Mr. Ricky waiting to meet some new friends.  We found a beautiful custom-built, art-filled home on seven acres owned by an artist and a wildlife ranger.

A notebook on the counter gave us detailed instructions for everything we needed to know about their home, right down to the names and descriptions of the chickens “Ginny – Big and brown with white speckles”.  We settled in to enjoy one of the most relaxing and peaceful mini-getaways in a very long time.   That first evening, as we were sipping wine on the big, comfy couches overlooking the pond, hubs looks over and says “Do you hear that?”  I said, “Yes.  Nothing!  What a lovely sound.”

The next day (after feeding the girls and gathering the eggs) we explored the tiny mill town of Toledo, strolled the streets of Newport, barked back at the noisy sea lions, walked out to the fishing docks, ducked into shops, crossed the big bridge to escape the rain for a few hours in the Oregon Coast Aquarium and stuffed ourselves at one of the best seafood restaurants on the Oregon coast – Local Ocean Seafood.

By early evening we were completely tuckered out and headed back to our Toledo retreat to enjoy all the comforts of “home”.  So much nicer than watching TV sitting on the bed in a hotel room.  We put our feet up, pulled out a blanket, turned on the fireplace and snuggled on the couch with a glass of Pinot and a wee bit of chocolate.  We also discovered Netflix and the guilty pleasure of watching How I Met Your Mother.  All-in-all, it was a perfectly wonderful experience and we cannot wait to do it again.

Parked my rollie in this lovely bedroom.

Thank you Ram and Dawn for making our first home exchange such a wonderful experience.  We hope you enjoyed your stay in our home as much as we loved staying in yours.  Mr. Ricky says “hi” and please come back to visit any time.

If you’ve been considering home exchange for future travels, I suggest you go for it.

Now, I’m off to find home exchange number two…

On Foot and Close to Home ~

In all my travels, I have one no fail rule.  When the rest of the country is taking to the highways for a three day holiday – that’s the perfect time for me to stay at home.  I’m not a lover of crowds, or traffic for that matter, so joining millions of people fighting for a camping space or a hotel room at the beach, or sitting bumper to bumper on the interstate…not my cup of tea.   I’m probably missing out on something, but so be it.

What I really wanted to do this weekend was take advantage of these last few gorgeous late summer days.   I know that any week now, it will start raining in Portland and it won’t stop until sometime in 2013 – say around June.  So, when Saturday morning brought us a beautiful sunny day, cloudless blue skies, and the masses out of town, we had the perfect opportunity for an in town adventure.  Hubs and I headed over the bridge and across the river into Washington State to explore the City of Vancouver (The ‘Couve) on foot.   Urban walking is my new thing since I bought the book “Walk There! 50 treks in and around Portland and Vancouver”.  My goal is to do all 50 at least once.  I’m up to four, but I only bought the book a few weeks ago so I’m feeling pretty good.

Today’s route had lots of historical points of interest.  Our walk was a 6+ mile loop that started  at Fort Vancouver.  We walked by the beautifully restored homes on Officer’s Row where Hubs stopped to read every one of the historical markers.  I bounced around trying to keep my heart rate up. 

Following the map, we wound our way over the Interstate and on into downtown Vancouver to Esther Short Park where the Saturday Farmers’ Market was in full swing.  We’d worked up an appetite and homemade tamales were calling us, so we stopped for lunch.   That’s when we stumbled into the middle of a Kumoricon convention.   Thousands of young people in the streets and the park, each dressed as the character they have created for online fantasy role-playing games.  (the simplified explanation that someone gave me).  We had stumbled into the world of Animé and Mange, and  it was absolutely one of those fabulous serendipitous moments that I love!   We reluctantly left the revels in the park and headed down to the shores of the mighty Columbia River where our path followed the shoreline for a couple more miles before turning inland and back up the hill towards the barracks of Ft. Vancouver.   We stopped to watch several small planes take off and land on a tiny air strip.  That’s when we discovered the best surprise of the day.  The Pearson Air Museum – two airplane hangers filled to the rafters (literally) with vintage planes, flight simulators, amazing old photographs, assorted gear… and Gordon, aviation buff extraordinaire.   Gordon knew everything about these beauties and had stories to share.  I chatted him up a bit and then went in with the big question (and a big smile to match).  “Uh, Gordon, do you think my husband and I could sit up in that plane and you could take a quick picture of us?”   “Sure, not a problem,”  said my new best friend.  He showed us how to climb into the plane and explained that this baby was a WWII era training plane.   I put on the headphones and learned how to move the rudder and the flaps and all kinds of cool stuff. Thank you Gordon! 

We spent an hour at the museum, and a return visit is definitely in order so hubs can play on those flight simulators.  Next, a short hike up the hill from the original Fort Vancouver.  It was a Hudson Bay Trading Post in the early 1800’s.  It’s now a National Monument filled with living history.   We crossed the expansive parade grounds, stopping to look at each of the old wooden barrack buildings – home to thousands of troops until the 1950’s.   If you stood still and closed your eyes, you could almost hear the footsteps of all those young men as they marched across the grass so many years ago.

Sometimes you don’t have to travel to the other side of the globe or even the country for adventure.  We had the backpack, but no rollies were required on our close to home sightseeing trek.  Four hours on foot + $15.00 for lunch and a donation to the museum + warm sun on my face + time spent outdoors with my walking buddy and partner in crime = a perfect Labor Day Weekend getaway.  And, we managed to get home in time for hubs to watch his favorite Saturday afternoon show, Trout TV.

Life IS Good.

Air BnB ~ Another Interesting Option

Here’s another lovely benefit of writing this blog – I hear from so many people who know WAY more about travel than I do and they offer great new ideas for me to check into.  How cool is that?  Very actually!   And that’s how I came to learn about Airbnb from Suzie, a lovely woman with a lot more travel miles on her rollie than the hubs and I have right now.

How about an art filled room in Giacomo’s stone house in Vinci, Italy?

I’d heard of this new player in travel accommodation but, frankly I thought it was sort of a step up from couch surfing and I’ve decided that’s probably not for us (at least right now).  Boy, was I wrong.  According to the founders (three young men in their late 20’s) it all started several years ago when these guys decided to buy some blow up mattresses and offer them (along with a tasty breakfast and local hospitality) to a few of young creative types who were attending a creative design conference in San Francisco where they lived.
Hence the original name Air Bed and Breakfast.  I am always tickled by creative ideas and love it when creativity + passion + vision + hard work = major success.

According to their website, it turns out that a whole lotta people were looking for places to stay where the “hospitality was genuine and the M&Ms didn’t cost $6.  The guests got insight into the city from a fresh, local perspective and an interesting place to stay at a very reasonable price.”  Bingo!   Airbnb took off and now offers diverse accommodations in over 26,000 cities and 192 countries around the world.

So, of course I took myself for a little cruise on the airbnb site and found every imaginable kind of place to stay.   For $71 a night you can rent a lovely domed cave house in Cataluna, Spain from Eve.  Or, for $85 a night you can stay in this yurt in the trees near Ashland OR with Becky and Sidney as your hosts.  We could do this for a long weekend! Or maybe, a small apartment on an agriturismo farm owned by Francesco and his family.  They make sheep’s milk cheese.  You name it, someone is offering you the opportunity to stay in it – cabins, rustic retreats, repurposed buildings, yurts, castles, boats, lofts, apartments – the list is endless.  And, of course, you can always rent a bedroom in someone’s home, often with meals and lots of social interaction.   Brilliant idea!  Let’s get packing.

Bicycle Built For Two ~

I had never seen a bicycle built for four until a week or so ago when we stumbled upon a whole herd of them.   I’m not sure exactly what you call a whole bunch of cyclists on bicycles built for two, or three, or even four riders – whole families riding in unison on the same bike!  And everyone was smiling.  And no one was arguing or complaining.   They were happy – at least 100 of them.  It was a beautiful sight to behold.  A few even stopped a minute so I could take a picture, others just whizzed on by so I had a lot of pics of rear tires and rear ends.

Of course, this prompted the conversation “We could/should do this.”  Really?  Are you nuts?   We’re a team, a pretty good team, but not one that always works in tandem.  We each dance to our own music.  Hubs is  “Meatloaf – Life’s a Lemon and I Want My Money Back” 70’s and 80’s rock and roll and I’m all Norah Jones.  You should see us dance!  It takes a considerable amount of alcohol to smooth out the differences.  And, I have that unfortunate tendency to lead.  That’s probably not going to change any time soon.  Now, picture those very same people on a tandem bike.  Scary thought.

Apparently there are names for each position.  The person in the front is the pilot and the person in back is called the stoker.   If we were to ever consider such a crazy thing, I’m calling dibs on pilot (it sounds easier and I get to be in charge, ie. lead, which we already know I have experience with).   Hubs can be the muscle in the back.I found some very helpful information from a couple who took a 3 1/2 month tour of Europe on a bicycle built-for-two pretty much on a whim and with no experience.  Sounds like a “Why Not?” to me.  Since their tips for keeping the peace in your relationship while riding tandem pretty much work for relationships in general, I thought I’d pass them along.

Pilot – Do not spit.
Stoker –  Do not be a backseat driver.
Pilot – Do not question the Stoker’s pedaling efforts.
Stoker – Do not lean.
Pilot – Communicate – do not expect the Stoker to be a mind reader.
Stoker – Do not suddenly stop pedaling
Pilot/Stoker – Do not walk away from the tandem and assume that the other person is holding it upright.

So maybe you’ll see us on the road someday.  If I don’t waive, it’s because I’m holding on for dear life with both hands.

Sneekin’ out in the middle of the week ~

Finally, summer seems to have arrived in our little piece of the Pacific Northwest.  Although the betting pool at our house this year pegged it closer to mid-July, I’m happy to say we celebrated the independence of our nation and paid homage to the Sun Gods on July 4th by taking a short trip across the river into Washington and out the Columbia Gorge to join the revelers at Skamania Lodge and watch the fireworks light up the sky above the mighty Columbia River.  It seemed like the perfect time for a spur of the moment getaway and since hubs had won a mid-week stay at this lovely lodge a while back, we threw our rollies in the car and off we went for a little fun close to home.   Fun?  On a Wednesday?  Wow!  For this corporate desk jockey, I have to admit it felt a little strange.  For the Old Guy, it felt like retirement – and he mentioned that several times – Him:  “This is what retirement is all about.”  Her:  “No, this is what vacation is all about.”   Whatever.  Let’s just get going and soak up every minute.  So, soak we did.  We also went on a great six mile walk going down the hill from the lodge, along the Columbia River, through the tiny town of Stevenson, and out onto the landing to watch the sail boats, windsurfers, kite boarders and jet skiers.  Lots of interesting things to see and a few that made you wonder…

Back at the lodge and with time on our hands until dusk, the appointed fireworks hour, we snagged two adirondack chairs on the lawn and camped out to eat, drink, eat, drink, talk with and watch interesting people, and play a few rousing games of croquet on the grass.  I trounced him!  Maybe that’s because hubby insisted on playing while continuing to hold on to his cocktail.  Or, maybe I’m just that good.  All in all, a great start to summer.

Returning home by midday on Thursday, I was refreshed and recharged.  Maybe we should take more middle of the week “sneek away trips”.  What’s your favorite get away within an hour or so of home?

No Frills Airline ~

Over here at Just a Back Pack, I’m always looking for ways to travel on the cheap.  I’ve been reading up on accruing frequent flyer miles, comphopping, couch surfing and more.  These days there are so many unique ways to travel and save a buck or two.  With a lot of leg work and a little luck, I’m betting two adventuring geezers on a limited retirement budget can still put a lot of miles on our rollies.

Back in the day, when air travel was seen as glamorous and pretty much the private domain of the well-heeled, low budget (Greyhound in the Sky) air travel lived only in the dreams of most would-be travelers and apparently in the creative minds of a few comedians as well.   This No Frills Arline skit from the very old days of the Carol Burnett show is absolutely hysterical.

What’s your no frills adventure horror story?