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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Just a Couple of Crazy Kids ~ another on foot adventure

Since we are now fully committed to the Camino de Santiago trek next September, the hubs and I have upped our walking game significantly.  Every weekend we’re out exploring the city streets and country roads in and around Portland.  It is amazing what you miss when you are whizzing along at 55 mph.  Of course, the beautiful Fall weather hasn’t hurt.  I don’t know how motivated we’ll be when it’s cold, gray and soggy, but we’ll cross that bridge (on foot) when we come to it.

I’m in charge of mapping our routes and coming up with interesting locations and access to restrooms and good food along the way.  So far, so good.  Last week a friend of mine who is always off on one adventure or another, mentioned she had gone to the Portlandia Corn Maize out on Sauvie Island.  When I asked how much actual walking was involved, she indicated it could be A LOT depending on how many dead ends you took in the maize.

Well, thanks to Lois, I thought this would be a great way to try something new and get our walk on at the same time.  What a hoot!  Yes, it is mostly for families with kids and somehow that brought out the kid in us too.   We walked, we laughed, and we got lost over and over again.  But, we enjoyed the fresh air, acres of corn stocks at least ten feet tall, answered silly questions that helped us find our way through the maize, and of course, I sang a chorus or two of “I’m as Corny as Kansas in August”.

Honey, I think we’ve been down this row before.

And, the best part…because we aren’t kids (only kids at heart), we finished the afternoon with a couple of adult beverages on the dock and watched the boats go by.

Booked it Danno!

I am so excited I can hardly contain myself!   If I’m dreaming, please do not pinch me.

I have been thinking about walking the Camino de Santiago for a while now.  But, in my heart, I knew I was way past that stage in my life where I wanted to walk all day and then sleep on the ground or in a hostel with the smelly, partying masses of young folk. Not to mention carrying all my belongings on my back. Don’t get me wrong – I love young people.  I used to be one.  Truly, some of my best friends are young.  And, I still like a good party!   I do not think of myself as old and crotchety, no matter what my kids might tell you.  But, when it comes to SLEEP.  Now that’s a different matter entirely.  Let it be known here that I am not nice (and might even be considered cranky if not downright crotchety) when I don’t get my full eight hours – preferably in comfort and relative silence.  So, I wasn’t sure how to make this particular dream a reality.  It was definitely a conundrum.

I firmly believe that there is always a way and a brilliant solution came to me in the form of an article written by a woman who had completed what I like to call the “relatively civilized, not too hard but still challenging, with support if and when you need it” version of walking the Camino.   Marly Tours was our answer!  This discovery made it all seem do-able.  All we needed was a little time, a moderate amount of money and good walking shoes.  As it turned out, I mentioned our idea to a few friends and now we are a party of six.  Hubs, me, my sis and three women friends.  It’s a big year too – my 65th birthday, my sister’s “something that ends in a zero” birthday, hubs and my 10th anniversary.  Definitely a year worth marking in a big way.  We’ll  walk about 10-12 miles a day at our own pace  and meet up along the way. Then we’ll gather together every evening for wine, dinner and story-telling before bed.  We’ll be a small group of no more than 14 Pilgrims + our Marly “wranglers” who will make sure we don’t get lost, carry our luggage, provide snacks, first aid and sag wagon support if needed.

So… we’re off.  Well not until next September.  Exactly twelve months from this week.    Call me a light weight, call me soft, call me old, but do not call me between September 17 and 24, because I won’t be home.  I’ll be in Spain, crossing one more item off my bucket list – walking at least a small portion of the Camino de Santiago.

Staying in small hotels like this…Sleeping in a comfy bed like this…Walking along roads and paths like this…Now, I just need to find a home exchange so we can stay an extra week to explore the rest of Spain.  I’m working on that too.

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.

Making Every Step Count ~

In my last post I wrote about walking with my hubby and shared my dream of taking a walking vacation.  I’m picturing this as the travel version of the slow food movement.  Taking our time.  Savoring every step.  Stopping to take photographs. And, the best part- burning enough calories to indulge my desire to sip and sample all of the local delicacies along the way .  That’s my idea of a really good walk.

Not everyone shares my vision of walking as a slow amble to the next food establishment.  There are people out there who walk with purpose – for a cause – and I’m not talking a five mile stroll here either.  These folks walk to raise money, raise awareness, make a statement and make a difference.  They are stepping out in a really big way and I was so struck by what some of these walkers have accomplished, that I wanted to share their stories.  They humble me and their efforts make our world a better place.  There are literally thousands of people who have walked 1,000’s of miles for their cause.  Here are just a few.  You might already know of them.  I did not.

Dorris Haddock – also known as Granny D.

In 1995, Doris became interested in campaign reform and led a petition movement to remove unregulated “soft” money from election campaigns.  On January 1, 1999 – at the age of 89 – she began a 3,200 mile walk across the country to demonstrate her concern for the issue.  Walking ten miles each day for fourteen months, Doris traveled as a pilgrim – walking until given shelter, fasting until given food. With the unflagging generosity of strangers she met along the way, Doris never went without a meal or a bed. She trekked through 1,000 miles of desert, climbed the Appalachian Range in blizzard conditions and even skied 100 miles after a historic snowfall made roadside walking impossible. When she arrived in Washington D.C., Granny D was met by over 2,000 supporters. Several members of Congress walked the final miles with her.   She died at the age of 100 in a head-on car crash on her way to a speaking engagement.

(story and photos from the website GoGrannyGo)

Steve Fugate ~

Steve Fugate, a 65-year-old Florida man, made walking his passion after his son committed suicide in 1999.  Since then, Fugate has walked all over the United States, tallying up 30,000 miles. At each stop, he talks to people, especially children, about learning to love life.  So far, Steve has crossed the U.S. six times.  He says he’s starting to slow down and might like to find an easier form of transportation or a small trailer (he usually sleeps in a small tent he carried) to make life a little easier, but his passion for sharing his LOVE LIFE message still burns bright.  Follow Steve on his blog Trail Therapy.

Polly Letofsky ~

In 1999 Polly went for a walk.  A very long walk.  She traveled across 4 continents, 22 countries, and over 14,000 miles – by foot – to become the first woman to walk around the world as a one woman awareness campaign for breast cancer. Survivors and well-wishers around the world came to walk with her.  Every day strangers welcomed her into their homes and shared meals.   In the middle of Polly’s five year journey, the world suddenly shifted on it’s axis on September 11, 2001 and she suddenly found herself  in a vastly changing world.  Polly kept on walking.  Today, Polly is a motivational speaker with a book, 3mph -The  Adventures of One Woman’s Walk Around the World and a documentary film about her amazing five year walking adventure.

Makes me want to lace up my new shoes, adjust the backpack and hit the road…Starbucks here I come!

These Shoes were made for walking ~

Yesterday, with the promise of food and drinks to follow, I convinced my hubby to accompany me on a hike in the lovely hills of Forest Park.  What a treasure right in the heart of Portland.  We took the easy route, starting on the Lower Macleay Trail and winding our way up, up and up a little more until we found ourselves on the Wildwood Trail not too far below the Pittock Mansion.  The Wildwood Trail (30 miles long) is just one of many trails that wind through the densely wooded 5,000+ acre park.   We’re definitely fair weather walkers, but I try to walk at least a couple of miles every day.  I prefer walking outside.  Hubby has recently joined the ranks of the treadmill zombies at our local gym.  Getting him to walk outside with me is not a task for the feint of heart. Every evening after dinner I say “I’m going to walk, want to go?”  He says (fully reclined in his chair in front of the TV) “No, but thanks for asking.”  My guy is definitely polite, but until recently he has been Mr. Potato Head’s third cousin – Mr. Couch Potato.  Two or three times a year he surprises me and says “yes”, then off we go.  And, guess what.  He always has the best time and wants to do it again…until the next evening when we’re back to “No, but thanks for asking.”

One of the items on my Really Cool Things to Do While I Still Can List is to take a walking vacation.  One that challenges me, but just enough.  I’ve got nothing to prove.  I just want the experience.  Perhaps something like walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.  I have been more than a little intrigued by this idea for several years.  A few months ago I saw The Way, a movie staring Martin Sheen about a father who makes the pilgrimage as a tribute to his son.  It’s funny, heartwarming, life affirming and filled with gorgeous scenery and larger than life characters.  The movie started me thinking again about what it would take and what it would mean to have an experience like this.  Well, first and foremost, I’d have to do a lot more walking on a regular basis.  You don’t just get up one day and start a several hundred mile walk across Spain. Second, question.  Could I convince the recently converted walker, Mr. Couch Potato- Head, that something like this could be fun?  An adventure in fact.  I think, just maybe – if   we didn’t need to do the whole route.  Well, a little walking on the internet and I found the perfect option in an article by Alison Gardner, In the Footsteps of a Thousand Years of Pilgrims.  Basically, Alison took a 7 day walking tour on the Camino de Santiago -not the whole route, but about the last 70 miles or so.  Go at your own pace but with two lovely Spanish tour guides, a little van support for the luggage, stops for lunch and refreshments, and overnights in a small inn or home providing the luxury of a quiet, comfortable night sleep and a hot shower for those aching muscles.   Add in the Plan B of being able to ride in the “sag wagon” if sore legs or blisters get the better of you.  Perfect!  Let’s call it adventure light and I like it.  With a plan like this, I think I can convince my walking buddy that it would be worth stepping out together several times a week.  We’re good with 5 or 6 miles these days, so I’m pretty sure we could get to 10-12 with a little steady effort.

So I got me some cute new walking shoes and I’m ready to roll.  Buen Camino!