Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Lucky Break: Annecy, France

Last summer a baby unicorn fell into my lap.

What I mean is a really great opportunity came my way in the form of a freelance writing assignment for Salomon, which is located in Annecy, France, near the French-Swiss border.

So, to further milk the unicorn metaphor, I hopped on its back and off I went.

Annecy has been described as the "Pearl of the French Alps", which in my humble opinion, is a bit of an understatement. Annecy Lake, Annecy le Vieux (the old city) and the nearby village of Talloires are all beyond stunning. 

The lakeside experience in particular is mind-blowingly gorgeous  – so gorgeous that I felt that I had been dropped into a Conde Naste Traveller magazine center spread. On that that picture-perfect July afternoon, it seemed I had entered into some sort of Alpine dream: a cloudless blue sky and a sparkling lake surrounded by rugged peaks, complete with tanning sun worshippers.

If you are headed to France anytime soon  – check this place out. You won’t be disappointed.

And if a unicorn comes knocking at your door – hop on and go for the ride.

Monday, February 29, 2016

A Weekend to Remember: Astoria OR

Wow. Astoria. Where have you been all my life?

I mean, I’ve lived only two hours away for almost fifteen years, and I’ve definitely been to and been through Astoria. But this time I actually hung out in Astoria and got to know it better, and I’m so glad that I did.

My primary reason for going was to attend the FisherPoets Gathering 2016 for my client Fishpeople Seafood. Before and after the festivities I had lots of down time, so I got to kick around town which allowed me to stumble across things. Sometimes it’s more fun that way.

Here’s a few highlights:

Astoria Riverwalk Inn
This modestly priced inn sits right on the water and offers views that far exceed their rates. The photo above was taken from my room.

The Astoria Bridge
After living many years in San Francisco, I can tell you my bar is high when it comes to bridges. But I must say, the Astoria Bridge is right up there with the best of them. The structure is visually arresting and set against incredible scenery creating multiple photo opps. I find it just as impressive as the Golden Gate Bridge, albeit in a more understated Pacific Northwest way. And like the Golden Gate Bridge, the Astoria Bridge acts as a gateway to the Pacific which gives it a grand sort of feeling

Historic architecture
So many historic buildings are intact and actively used in Astoria, giving this small city a very livable and cohesive feel. The streets are inviting and make you want to meander around.

Custard King
This is not your average ice cream stand. This is Custard King, a beloved Astoria landmark that dates back to the 1950s and was rescued from years of neglect by already-successful and enterprising Portlanders. That’s a good story with a happy ending.

Now, onto the custard.

Never one to pass up a high calorie dairy-infused opportunity, I had a cone. And let me tell you – it was delicious. Apparently this is a Midwestern take on soft serve ice cream.  It’s extremely creamy and not quite as sweet. As a result it tastes homemade and, well, more real – as opposed to something that just gets poured into a machine then churned out as soft ice cream. Definitely worth a stop.

Sea lions
If you’re looking for an adorable sea mammal fix visit the sea lions at Pier 39. I think there were at least a couple hundred lolling about on the rocks – pretty good for a sunny late February afternoon. Sea lions are very vocal and they are fun to watch. They are, quite simply, charming creatures.

Rogue Brewery at Pier 39 has an outdoor deck in close proximity to the sea lion hangout. You you can actually commune with them while you dine. But consider  yourself warned: sea lions are very vocal, plus they have a certain “natural” scent. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, it can envelop you while you chow down on your burger and beer. It's all part of the fun.

Astoria, I'll be back. Soon.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A U-Cut Kind of Christmas: Buxton OR

A few days back, I had the good fortune of attending a U-Cut Christmas-tree party on private property somewhere near Buxton, Oregon. The weather was quintessential Pacific Northwest – misty, rainy, foggy and cool: a perfect day to chop down your own Christmas tree and connect with your inner lumberjack.

Reinforced by spiked hot-apple cider, a few of us felt pretty darn rugged as we trudged down the lane that led to the Christmas trees. Clippers in hand, we were ready to harvest some fresh greens and a Doug fir or two. A well-prepared member of our group brought a Sawzall, which easily sliced through the young evergreens. In no time at all, we were elatedly crying out: “TIMBER!" 

And as we hauled our trees back to the warmth of our cars, we were already missing our time spent in the magical Christmas Tree Forest.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Linda's Dahlias: Washougal WA

One warm early fall afternoon, with the last vestiges of a very hot summer still lingering, I took off on a short joyride to check out Washougal River State Park – but actually never made it. On the way, I was completely distracted by an eye-candy jar full of hundreds of dahlias in full bloom. What at first appeared to be a roadside stand turned out to be Linda’s Dahlias in Washougal, Washington.

Linda's Dahlias, lower garden

The flowers, situated in upper and lower gardens on Linda’s property, are visible from the road and hard to miss, so I pulled over. Holding down the dahlia fort (so to speak) was a very friendly, slightly hippie-ish woman in a floppy straw hat (not Linda) whose name I did not catch. She informed me I could purchase a premade bouquet, or pick my own. (Note: premade bouquets are set out during the week on the honor system.)

I opted for u-pick (which was a heck of a lot easier than the time I u-picked tomatoes on Sauvie Island – but I digress.) With the u-pick option, I was entitled to 13 dahlias for $6.00, (a complete steal if you’ve checked out the flower section at Whole Foods lately). And one of the 13 could be a crazy-looking humongous dahlia (as opposed to the multitude of crazy-looking smaller dahlias).

Linda's Dahlias – grown on Planet Earth. Really. 

And so with clipping shears in hand (provided by the lovely Dahlia Hippie Lady), I set off to explore both the upper and lower gardens. As I wandered between the rows, I marveled at the many varieties and their sizes, shapes and colors. Besides being gorgeous, these dahlias were positively otherworldly, and their textures and petal patterns looked like something from another galaxy.

Apparently, I got to Linda’s Dahlias in the nick of time. It’s the end of their season and the colorful rows will be dug up in another week or two, once the rain starts in earnest. I was a bit sad I hadn’t stumbled on Linda’s Dahlias earlier in the season, but was happy I had made the discovery for next year.

In fact, I was so pumped about these amazing flowers that I’ve even considered taking a crack at growing them myself. Linda’s Dahlias has a catalog, and tubers go on sale in April.  I’ve even got a floppy straw hat.

Linda's Dahlias
Washougal, WA

Friday, June 12, 2015

De-Nailing Deconstructed: The ReBuilding Center, Portland OR

For quite some time, I had been seeking an organization where I could volunteer. My criteria were as follows: it had to be close by, offer flexible times to do the work – and also be fun. My search led me to the ReBuilding Center. Many Portlanders are already familiar with the ReBuilding Center's very popular and cooler-than-cool retail location on N. Mississippi Avenue. The store is chock full of recycled building materials ready for reuse by contractors, architects, and home and business owners looking to incorporate salvaged materials into their projects.

One really big way volunteers contribute is by de-nailing: taking salvaged wood boards and removing the nails with various tools. It’s actually very gratifying – sort of like weeding – but better. First of all, with de-nailing, you can stand upright, as opposed to weeding, where you are forced to hunch over some naughty little plant burrowed into the soil. Further, once the nails are out, they are OUT for good. Nails, unlike weeds, don’t grow back in a week or after the first rain.

Anyway, for me, the epitome of de-nailing is when it happens on an actual deconstruction site. A typical “decon” scenario includes specially trained ReBuilding Center employees dismantling a structure, and volunteers de-nailing the boards on the spot. The de-nailing process consists of three steps: placing the boards on a sawhorse, prying the nails out with crowbars and hammers, and then neatly stacking the “clean” boards in a pile.

On the surface, deconstruction appears to be a pretty straightforward process, but the ramifications of the work are more complex. When volunteers are able to de-nail boards on site, it means the materials are processed instantly and can return to the ReBuilding Center ready for sale. Just as important, de-nailing on-site greatly facilitates upcycling by saving both time and energy. In fact, it actually takes the upcycling process to the next level, since taking down the building and reclaiming the materials happens in one efficient circle of activity.

Plus, everyone gets to wear a hard hat, and what could be cooler than that?

The ReBuilding Center
3625 N. Mississippi Ave. 

Portland, OR 97227

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Historic Balch Hotel: Dufur OR

I’m a sucker for historic hotels, and often seek them out whenever I take a trip.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to stay at the Balch Hotel in Dufur, Oregon. Dufur is a farming community roughly 100 miles from Portland and just east of The Dalles. The hotel (c. 1907), which has been elegantly restored and is on the National Register of Historic Places, looms large in this small town.

The Balch (as it's fondly called) takes pride not only in its historic roots, but also in creating an atmosphere where you can unplug. There are no TVs – but there is Wi-Fi for those that suffer from technology separation anxiety. Having said that, soon after arriving, not only did I put my iPhone down – I actually put it away. Yup, that’s right. I just turned off the ringtone and zipped it up in my purse. That way, I knew I could enjoy the sound of cooing doves wafting through my second-floor bedroom window without interruption.

Another great thing about the Balch is that, although it’s more than 100 years old, it does not have that musty, creepy feeling – often passed off as “atmosphere” – that some historic hotels have. The Balch stays true to its historic roots and has a definite period look and feel, but the aura inside is airy and light with just the right amount of furnishings, and not overwhelmed by overstuffed “shabby chic” Victorian furniture. 

The grounds are well maintained, and there’s also a lovely, spacious patio. (It’s easy to understand why this is a popular place for weddings.) The weekend I stayed the weather was sunny and warm (not unusual for east of the Cascades), so it was easy to enjoy the outdoor areas.

The hotel also hosts many events, one of which I attended: a spring winemakers dinner, which featured a delicious meal prepared by The Lamb’s Table paired with wines from Maryhill Winery, located just across the Columbia River in Washington.

An entertaining, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable marketing person from Maryhill Winery filled us in on the wines as we ate. This might sound invasive, but it was actually fun to learn about each wine in real time while eating the dish it complemented. I bonded with the Viognier, and ended up purchasing a bottle to go.

After the meal, I took an evening stroll around the grounds, gazed at the stars, then retired to my room – reveling in the simple pleasure of not feeling I had to go anywhere or do anything. 

In short, the Balch has a beautiful feeling both inside and out; it pretty much has everything one needs to chill, and is well worth a visit.

Balch Hotel
40 South Heimrich Street
Dufur, OR, 97021

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Covered Bridge Reborn: Stayton OR

I had read about the covered bridges of Oregon, but had never actually seen one. So off I went down Hwy. 5 to check out the closest of the bunch – which would be the Stayton-Jordon covered bridge, located in the town of Stayton, just east of Salem.

Aside from the the bridge, I wasn't too clued into what else to see or do in Stayton, since the Travel Oregon site didn't have much to say about it. (Having said that, I did enjoy my pancakes at Kelly’s CafĂ©.)

Back to the bridge. Apparently, this bridge is actually a reproduction, since the original burned down back in December 1994 by a fire started by Christmas lights on the roof. (Note to self: things can burn in western Oregon in December, despite the relentless rain.)

Regardless, the "new and improved" bridge is still photo-worthy, and for amateur photographers, there are many shots to be had here. As I was leaving, three people showed up armed with a camera and tripod, which confirmed my hunch that this is probably the favorite local photo opp spot.