The Road Less Travelled #10

Madonna Estates Vineyards


Instead of Baywatch Cafe I headed across the street to Mel’s Diner, despite warnings from the front desk guy that it was an evil chain.  It is a chain but only in California, and not even all over California.  They give you plenty of food but it’s crowded in there so service is a little wonky.  I don’t need anybody to dance attendance upon me while I’m scarfing down an omelet and coffee so it didn’t really bother me.

Now it’s time to start exploring.  Instead of bothering with that confounded 511 website, I just used Google maps to find my way around.  So much faster and less of headache.  Google maps told me to walk up to Jackson Street to catch the bus.  And by up, they meant UP.  My goodness.  These hills.  It’s a workout, that’s for sure.  How you San Franciscans get on with it everyday is beyond me, but I guess it’s what you’re used to.  It made me wonder if the city was very accessible to the disabled and elderly.

It took me about 15 minutes to go a quarter of a mile up that hill.  I’m sadly out of shape, I know.  The bus took me to the Castro, San Francisco’s gay community.  Previously, I always thought of San Francisco as one BIG gay community.  I don’t know where I got that impression.  At any rate, I always like gay communities because there is such an emphasis on community.  I’ve never been to a gay community that is run-down, ramshackle or derelict in some way.  There’s always interesting shops and curious things to do, and San Francisco really exemplifies that.

If you’re funny about such things, I really wouldn’t worry about it.  It’s not like everyday there’s a gay pride parade, just people going about their business.  There are some interesting stores with names like Rock Hard, Sit’n’Spin and Hot Cookie.  I can’t remember what Rock Hard is, but Sit’n’Spin is a laundry place and Hot Cookie is well, a place that sells cookies.  And their cookies are great, let me tell you.  They do also sell chocolate dipped macaroons in the shape of men’s parts, in case you were interested.

There were better variety stores in the Castro, and the souvenirs were a lot cheaper.  I collect snowglobes and a friend of mine collects magnets.  I was able to get a snow globe (not one of the cheap ones, either), two magnets, and some postcards for about $6.  You’ll be lucky if you could find such a deal in Fisherman’s Wharf.

After the Castro, I took the street car back down Market Street so I could transfer to Stockton Street to see China Town.  I’ve been to China Town in NYC, Honolulu and Philadelphia, you might ask yourself why I’d be so interested but I just can’t stay away.  Besides, China Town is really the only place you can get pineapple stuffed buns.  If you ever read my Hawaii trip report you may remember the mad hunt for pineapple stuffed buns.  It’s something I used to eat as a kid when I lived in Japan, and whenever I am in China Town anywhere in the world I have to find them.  I found three different bakeries with pineapple stuffed buns, so I bought one from each to taste test.  I also bought red bean paste bread and other carb-filled junk I don’t need.

China Town is full of junk, but there are some random curious wonders if you care to spend half an afternoon looking for it.  If you need ginseng or oolong teas, this would be the place to get it.  The trick is to shop where the locals are shopping.  You don’t see the locals buying China girl looking dresses, or those cheap $5 slippers, or “silk” pajamas and handbags.  Yes, I bought all of these things.  There’s really no rhyme or reason.  I felt like I needed them.  I’m sad to say that my China girl slippers snapped the next day.  : (

After China Town I went back to the hotel to rest a little bit.  This is the advantage of staying in the city.  When you get worn down you can come back to your hotel, rest up a little bit and then head back out again.  Besides, you need to be close by so you can stash your souvenirs.  You don’t want everyone to know how pounds of pineapple stuffed buns you bought.  It could be humiliating.

In one of those brochures at the front desk I saw an add for the Winery Collective that is down in Fisherman’s Wharf.  Warning bells should have gone off in my head but either I wasn’t paying attention or they weren’t loud enough.  They offer wine tasting and all this other wine related stuff, so I thought it would be interesting.  It was actually quite expensive.  It was $25 for six pours, and you really couldn’t mix and match unless you gave this impression you were about to buy something.  All of the wines were priced higher than my budget allowed for, so I ended up just tasting.

The woman who poured for me was really nice though.  We had a long chat about teaching abroad.  Apparently she was teaching English in Sendai, Japan when the big quake over there happened.  It was interesting to hear her perspective.  She gave me a few tips on applying to teach abroad, something I’ve been thinking about lately.

After the Winery Collective, I went to ride the cable cars.  What a disaster.  I only did it because it seemed like the tourist thing to do.  The queue was ridiculous.  I stood in line at the terminus on Hyde Street for about 30 minutes before I gave up.  I walked up Hyde and saw that there were additional stops, so I waited at one of those.  Three cable cars went past me because they were full.  I’m sure locals don’t ride the things because they are horribly expensive ($6 each way) and a completely ineffective and inefficient way to travel.  While I was waiting a limo pulled up and offered to take all of us for $5 each.  Nobody took him up on his offer.  The only reason I continued to wait is because I was on the phone with someone and didn’t realise that an hour and 15 minutes had passed before I was able to ride on the car.  Then I was stuffed in with about 30 other passengers.  It was madness, and just to go a few blocks up the street to Hyde Street Seafood House.

Dinner was excellent.  If you’re looking for seafood, I’d give Hyde Street Seafood House a try.  The prices are reasonable and it’s not all stuffy and over the top fancy.  There were quite a few other people in there dining alone.  I started with grilled calamari followed by garlic shrimp.  Really good.  They specialise in en papilotte (I think I spelled that right) where they wrap everything in a paper and bake it, or something.

I got back on the wretched cable car to go back down to catch the bus only because the cable car was RIGHT THERE at the door.  Otherwise I would have walked.  I wish I would have then I would not have witnessed such a grand display of rudeness from the grip guy (or whatever they’re called).  These Japanese tourists got on with me, but they could not understand the instructions that were being barked at them.  The operator wanted the man to come around to the right side, so that me and the woman could sit down on the bench.  Obviously they did not speak or understand English so they kind of stood there looking lost.  The operator just screamed at the guy, “Come around, or you’re gonna get left!”  Eventually he seemed to understand, so he came around but then he didn’t get that you’re not supposed to stand directly behind the operator.  So the operator just basically shoves him into the correct place and says, “All you have to do is say excuse me!  Geez!”  And then everyone started laughing.  I thought it was so rude.

When you work in a position like that, one that sees hordes of tourists everyday, I get that it grates on your nerves.  Tourists are looking for the perfect vacation and we’re not easy to deal with when we’ve plunked down a crapload of money to enjoy ourselves.  But that’s really no excuse to talk to people like that.  They were older and foreign, so maybe apply just a little bit of patience.  If you don’t like your job, quit.  There’s many in the unemployment line that will be glad to take up where you left off.

It’s amazing how the wind just randomly picks up in the evening.  By the time I got back to the hotel I felt frozen through.  Definitely need another crepe and hot mocha from Squat’n’Gobble.  I think I’ve eaten there three times since being in San Francisco.

Next morning I was still freezing so I could not go out for my morning run.  Instead I went to one of these neighbourhood gyms and paid an astronomical $25 guest fee just to be able to run indoors.  It’s one of those gyms where everyone is already slim and attractive.  They don’t go to get in shape; they just go to prance around in coordinated exercise outfits and designer water bottles.

I had my tour with Extranomical scheduled for today.  I did Muir Woods and 3 wineries.  Very nice.  I really enjoyed it.  The tour guide was funny and informative, but I do have to say that he was a bit long-winded.  I think most of us just wanted to have a nice relaxing ride but he went on for quite some time.

I liked Muir Woods but I think after Yosemite and Mt. Hood, I was pretty much all hiked out.  It’s still cold to me, so after a quick go around the trail I sat in the gift shop until it was time to go.  If you’re coming here on your own without a tour, I’d get here very early.  Extranomical got us there before the other tour buses arrived but as we were leaving it was like a plague of tour buses coming down the hill towards Muir Woods.  The guide said the best time was middle of the week in the morning.

My tour group consisted mostly of foreigners.  There were only about 5 or 6 Americans total.  One crazy guy called me “Queen of the trees” and we hadn’t even started drinking yet.  I thought he was Ukrainian but turns out he was from Croatia.

We stopped at Gloria Ferrer first where they gave us a glass of sparkling wine.  I didn’t really care for this winery so much.  We didn’t really taste anything, it was more of “look at our show room and buy stuff!”  Second, we visited Madonna Estates.  This was my favourite. This is a small family owned organic winery that dates back to before Prohibition.  They were able to survive Prohibition because they sold to the Catholic Church.  The woman there was extremely informative.  I took gads of notes.  I didn’t buy anything but I think I will join their wine club just as soon as Maryland lifts its ridiculous restrictions on mail order alcohol.

Lastly, we visited Cline Cellars.  I felt rushed here but this place is much bigger.  They said they’re family owned but it felt corporate.  I hardly had time to contemplate one pour before I was given another.  I couldn’t take any notes or even remember the names of whatever I tasted.  I did buy from them though and only because I didn’t want to go home empty handed.  A bought a Zinfandel and a blend, and some chocolate wine sauce, because I really need chocolate wine sauce.

At this point, several of us are a little tipsy.  Everyone is much friendlier by now.  It was still a little bit early by the time we headed back to SF, so the tour guide rode us up to the Headlands so we could get pictures of the bridge.  Finally!  A clear shot.  This whole time I was never able to get a good picture but in the afternoon the fog is gone and I could see the whole thing.  Nice.

I had dinner at New Country Sky, some Chinese spot across from the hotel.  I had to do a quick dine’n’dash because I had tickets to Rigoletto at the War Memorial Opera House.  I am a huge fan of opera and I kept seeing the signs all over the city.  I did a quick search on the website and found there were still reasonable tickets left.  It was a great show.  I won’t bore you with all the details because I know opera is not everyone’s cup of tea.  I had a great time.  I met some nice people and we had a great discussion on opera during intermission.  I think this was the best time I had in the city.

The next day I slept in a little because it’s time for me to move on.  Only two hours to Monterey but the hotel said they were strict about the check in time.  I tried to go to Lori’s Diner because the Extranomical Tour Guide said it was way better than Mel’s but I had an issue with parking.  I found a metered space.  I got out, read the meter carefully.  Read all the signs and proceeded to put my money in.  This guy comes running out of a hotel and says, “Don’t park there!  They will tow you!”  I was really confused by this because according to the signs I was good, but if a local gives you a warning you should heed it, otherwise it would have been a very expensive breakfast.

Whatever, it’s time to go San Francisco.

Coming up:  Monterey, Morro Bay, Paso Robles and the end of our adventure

The Road Less Travelled #9

Golden Gate Bridge


I got up very early to get my miles in.  I’m in San Francisco now, so where do I have to run?  Across the Golden Gate Bridge, of course!  I’ve run across the Brooklyn Bridge on the east coast.  I’m sure there are other famous bridges, but I’ve got one back east and this one in the west, that’s good enough for me.  It was very foggy in the bay when I started out.  I couldn’t get a good view of the bridge, but the point was to run not to sightsee (even though that’s what ended up happening).  I ran down Marina to that area under the bridge.  There are some vignettes there, so I stopped to read some of them before making that climb up some steps to the actual bridge.  The fog has shifted a little bit so the entire Sausalito side of the bridge is completely enshrouded.  I felt like I was running to the ends of the earth.  There’s a Star Trek:  TNG episode where Beverly Crusher is stuck in a warp bubble that’s shrinking.  That’s what I felt like.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it.  It was just spooky, that’s all.

I didn’t run across the whole bridge because it was more miles than I needed.  It’s 1.7 miles one way.  There was something odd I noticed on the bridge, and that was a phone a person could use in the event of a crisis.  I don’t usually go across bridges with the intention of leaping off, but I guess some folks do.  Later, I found out from the Extranomical tour guide that 1500 people have jumped to their deaths since the bridge was finished.  He also stated that every now and again some crazy person will run amock on the bridge.  He said just a little bit ago some guy climbed up the suspension and hung out there for three hours.  Not my idea of fun, but if you or someone you know is having issues, please seek help.

After my run, I had breakfast at the Baywatch Cafe.  It’s adjacent to the hotel.  It was just “meh,” nothing to write home about.  While I was having breakfast, I watched a couple across the street try unsuccessfully to hail a cab.  I was in the cafe approximately 30 minutes.  They were there before I arrived and they were still there after I left.  Their antics included running back and forth in between the cars, and jumping out in front of cabs.  (TIP:  Don’t do this.  Just call one.)  I do not know if San Francisco is one of those cities where you can just wave down a cab like you can in NYC.  These people were nuts.  I actually got kind of scared because the woman just jumped out in front of cab and he swerved to avoid hitting her.  He already had a fare.  I could see that, why couldn’t they?  I don’t know why they didn’t just call somebody.

Now, onto some sightseeing.  I tried to take the bus to Fisherman’s Wharf but ended up in China Town instead.  I don’t find that the San Francisco transit system is very simple.  The first thing is that the website was confusing.  Secondly, they don’t have a mobile website.  It’ll be 2013 in less than three months.  Let’s get with the program.  It took ages for the full website to load on my iPhone.  I put in where I was and where I wanted to go.  Take the #30 from Chestnut.  Sounds easy enough.  A lot of the buses I was on didn’t have the announcing thing that tells you what street you’re passing so you know where to get off.  I could have asked the driver but the bus was packed and I had to get on in the back (which I notice an awful lot of people getting on in the back and not paying).  Ending up in China Town was not really that big a deal.  I had this cheesy little tourist map I got from the front desk of the hotel so I just walked from Stockton to the Embarcadero and down to Fisherman’s Wharf.  I could have really just walked from the hotel over.  It’s hardly a mile.

The day is shaping up to really nice.  It’s warm and sunny.  At 10AM, the Wharf isn’t packed yet.  I could look around at my leisure.  It’s a tourist trap, of course, but it wasn’t horrible.  Everybody is trying to sell a boat ride or something.  If you are interested in going to Alcatraz, book in advance.  I understand that in the high season it’s booked up weeks in advance.  I think they only allow a certain amount of people on the island a day.  I didn’t feel like I should go to Alcatraz.  I went to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, and I guess it’s kind of the same thing.  One jail looks the same as any other, and having famous criminals locked up there doesn’t really mean anything to me.  Besides, if it’s all booked up like that, it means one thing to me:  CROWDED.  Ugh.  No thanks.

I walked to Ghiardelli Square for an ice cream cone.  The cone was stale so I ended up throwing it away.  While trying to decide if I wanted a bay cruise or not, I went into the Musee Mecanique.  It’s very cheesy, but there’s lots of old arcade stuff that might interest you.  There was an old guy with a handlebar moustache dancing to the old time piano.  He was dressed real dapper in a way you don’t see Americans dress anymore unless they’re going to a funeral or a wedding.  He was lost in the music like it brought back some very good memories for him.

In the end, I did go on a bay cruise, but I didn’t take one of the really big boats, the ones that probably can carry 100 passengers.  I opted for the smaller guys.  You’ll find them after the Boudin Bakery.  A lot of them can only take up 15-20.  It’s cheaper and more intimate, at least that is how I felt.  It’s also a little bit shorter, so if you don’t know if you can sit on a boat 3 hours, this might be the option for you.  I stopped to get a shrimp basket from one of the stands so I could take it on the boat with me.  The small boats let you bring alcohol.  I don’t know about the bigger ones.

Once again, I was not able to get a good view of the bridge because of the fog.  It was crazy because the fog only covered the bridge.  Everywhere else was clear.  I got some decent shots of Alcatraz and the San Francisco skyline.  I really enjoyed the cruise, and since it was only $15 I did not mind that I couldn’t get a good picture of the bridge.

After about three hours I had my fill of Fisherman’s Wharf.  There is quite a bit to do down here like race cars with navigation, race boats on the bay, segway tours and all kinds of gimmicks.  There’s a ton of souvenir shops and restaurants.  All the souvenirs are overpriced and according to the TA locals these restaurants are not the best.  Except for the shrimp basket, I didn’t have anything to eat down here.  The shrimp basket was greasy, but it’s fried food so what do you expect?  It was good enough for carrying around food.

I took a street car to Market Street where the shopping is.  I went looking for an Old Navy because I had a coupon to use.  Oh, look at that, the street car put me off right in front of it.  They must have designed the entire transit system just for me.  There’s a ton of shopping down here if that’s your thing.  Everything from high end to middle class shops.  You could wander around for hours, spending all your disposable income.  I only popped into a few stores.  When you are on a road trip, you can carry much more than if you flew to your destination but a month worth of travelling has stuffed my car to the gills.  I don’t even know how I’m going to get back east because I’m taking an additional passenger with me.  There’s so much junk in there.

Now I’ve wandered off the path where I started so it’s time to find another bus to take me back to the hotel.  That darn website.  Maybe it’s just me.  I just couldn’t figure it out.  It seems to take for granted that you are a local.  It told me to walk to Corbett Street to catch the bus.  Well, where the heck is that?  It didn’t even say walk east or west.  It just said go to Corbett Street.  While I was trying to navigate that website, some random guy comes up to the woman next to me and gives her a bouquet of flowers.  He said, “I just wanted to do something nice today.  Here you go” and walked off.  The woman was standing there like… what?  It made me smile though, as if I’d been the one to get the flowers.  Then strangely, the website refreshes itself and gives me a bus route I can actually find.  How weird.

When I got back to the hotel there was a slight fracas on the corner.  Apparently, some woman had knocked over this guy’s Ducati motorcycle.  Angry is not a strong enough word to describe his emotions, but they don’t allow that sort of language here on TA.  I did a bit of rubbernecking (can you rubberneck if you’re a pedestrian) and then went on about my business.

I went back to the hotel early because I planned a night of clubbing.  It’s been awhile since I’ve been out dancing.  I went to this place called Death Guild (I’ll let you figure it out).  Before I could get there I had a near death experience with the cab driver.  Not wanting to give up my precious parking space, I called a cab (instead of running into the street trying to catch one) to take me to the club.  Whoa!  He drove like a MANIAC.  For whatever reason, I don’t usually wear my seatbelt in a cab, but I buckled up because he had to be going 60 miles an hour through the city streets.  Sixty on a freeway isn’t dangerous, but 60 where there’s stoplights and pedestrians and slow moving vehicles.  My God, the way he threaded through the traffic, I almost got out and walked.

Then he said, “You can call me when you’re ready and I’ll come get you.”  Uh, no thanks!

The club was pretty fun.  Sometimes clubs like these can be in bad parts of town with that seedy element most tourists try to avoid.  I didn’t have any issues.  I had a real good time, but I will say that I’m not as young as I used to be.  I can’t believe I used to do this 5 times a week.  I used to hang out all hours, but around 1AM I had to call it quits.

Another death-defying cab ride back to the hotel.  I think he was worse than the first guy.  So I guess they all drive like that.  And this guy was even worse because he tried to pick me up.  “Come on, let me get to know you!”  He wasn’t threatening or harassing so I did not feel the need to run for my life.  It was more funny than anything.

The next day I slept in till 9.  Boy, I wasn’t even out that late and I didn’t even drink but yet I felt like road kill.  A cup of hot black coffee soon put me to rights so that I could tour the Castro, China Town and ride those dang cable cars all the tourists are going on about.  Also Winery Collective and Hyde Street Seafood House.  Coming up!

The Road Less Travelled #8

I actually did not do any sightseeing in Eureka because I was so tired and I had a lot of homework to do.  The front desk had a guide of 101 things to do in Humboldt County.  I took a copy, thinking I would actually have time to do some of those things but it never panned out.

I did dine out once however.  The first night I asked the clerk where a good seafood place was.  Before I could even finish the sentence he blurted out, “The Sea Grill.”  Okay, Sea Grill it is.  Usually, I dress for dinner.  I know this is not a habit many Americans keep, but I always change my dress, freshen my makeup (if I’m wearing any) and redo my hair.  My friends laugh at me, but I’m not letting go of the habit any time soon.  I said that I *usually* do this.  Sometimes I think, eff it I’m hungry.  Let’s eat.  Tonight was one of those nights, and of course, it would be the night that I felt entirely out of place being dressed like a bum.  It’s not that everyone in the Sea Grill was in a tux and a prom dress.  There were a few in jeans, but most people were decently attired.  The hostess looked at me like, “My God, what happened to you!” but she was too polite to say anything.

She gave me a table, explained the night’s specials and probably went into the back to laugh at me.  However poorly I was dressed, the food was superb.  I had black cod in soy ginger sauce.  You know I’ll eat anything that’s soy or ginger or Asian sounding.  I never eat restaurant vegetables, but these were really good and crisp.  I cleaned that whole plate.  If you’re ever in Eureka and you want some seafood, head to Sea Grill on 3rd and E.  It’s not especially expensive but it isn’t cheap either.

I spent the next day and a half trying to break into San Francisco.  My God, I’ve never had such a headache.  In some places spontaneity works, and others it just doesn’t.  San Francisco is not a city that you can just descend upon and think you’re gonna end up with a place to stay.  Any number of events could be going on, which is what I found out after a fruitless search for a reasonably priced hotel.  I called my dad in frustration.  I told him that I might have to wave to San Francisco from the highway as I passed it by because I couldn’t find a place to stay.  When I told him my budget, he laughed.  Okay, so $100 a night was a pipe dream.  So was $200.  $300.  There is no way on God’s green earth that I would pay $400 a night for a hotel room.  I don’t care what I can afford or not.  It’s just not happening.

All those motors inns that I read about were booked full up.  I finally found a hostel, so I booked it and went to sleep thinking that everything was all right.  YEAH RIGHT!  Fifteen hours later, I get an email from them saying they cannot honour my reservation.  I was supposed to be checking out of Eureka and getting on the road in less than three hours.  What to do now?

For whatever strange reason I just decided to call one of the motor inns.  Their website said they were booked up, but the man on the phone said, “Oh, we have room!” and he could give me the very reasonable rate of $140 a night.  THANK YOU, LORD!  The big issue for me was that I have a car.  It’s not a rental that I can just turn in, but some of these hotels were charging $40 a night to park.  TO PARK!!  You can try to scrounge around for street parking but many visits to New York City have let me know that idea totally sucks.  Parking rules can be extremely complicated.  Street cleaning, parking permits, etc.  Who needs it?  You don’t want to end up like me that one time I got my car towed in NYC and it cost me $527 to get it out.

If you are renting because you want to tour outlying areas, get the car on the day you need it and get rid of it as soon as possible.  If you have money to spend on nightly parking, I am going to forward you my personal address so you can help me pay my school bills because obviously you got it like that and I don’t!

At any rate, the drive to San Francisco was not as pleasant as it should have been.  The scenery had nothing to do with it.  I went through Humboldt State Park, home of the giant redwoods.  It’s gorgeous through here, and if you have more time you should stop and take a look-see.  There’s weird fog through here too.  I think it followed the terrain.  There was one section where the fog rolled up only onto the mountain, like a woman pulling on a silk scarf.  Everywhere else was clear, except that one long thread.

I think I was having car issues, and that’s the reason I didn’t have an enjoyable drive.  The battery light in my car kept flashing.  That could mean battery or alternator.  Either way, not good.  In Humboldt State Park, I had ZERO cell phone service.  I drove pretty much white-knuckled all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.  Yes, I know I should have stopped but I really didn’t know where I could go.  I did get off the highway in Santa Rosa (I think) to look for a car servicing place but I hate driving around lost looking for things.  I just said heck with it.  I have AAA.  If something happens they can just tow me.  (TIP:  This is a stupid mentality.  Don’t do this.)

I stayed at Cow Hollow Motor Inn.  Not too shabby!  Free parking.  Big rooms.  Clean.  Close to public transportation, eateries and entertainment.  What more could you really ask for?  If it weren’t for TA, I would not have known to look at a place like this.  I have a tendency to think that if it isn’t a big chain then it’s a dump.  That’s not always true.  The chains can be dumps too.  Anybody ever have the misfortune of staying at an Econo Lodge or Motel 6 out in the middle of nowhere but you have to stop because you’ve been driving 12 hours?  Yeah….

So, San Francisco, I don’t know what to say about you.  I didn’t hate it, but I can’t say that I loved it.  I think that it’s just not for me.  You know, everything is not for everybody.  This isn’t going to be a huge rant about the city, I promise you that.  I did do quite a few things that were rather enjoyable.  I just think I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t come back.  I’ll let you know my full impressions in tomorrow’s post.  I was in the city four full days, and I think I packed quite a lot in those days but I’m sure I didn’t get in everything.

The first night I was in town, all I did was walk up and down Chestnut Street to take a look at what shops were near me.  I also bought my munipass from the Walgreens around the corner.  A three day pass is $21, but now you have to buy a Clipper Card.  If you don’t already have one it’s an additional $3.  This is well worth the purchase, especially if you want to ride those cable cars.  Those things are $6 EACH WAY.  This munipass is not valid for Bart or Golden Gate Transit or that other stuff you see, but yes, for the cable cars, the street cars and the regular buses.

I also walked along Marina, almost to the Bridge, but I stopped just before it.  That first night I just wanted photographs.  I had a run planned to take me across it the following morning.  This area here is really nice.  I understand that it was hard hit by an earthquake in the late 80s but they’ve since rebuilt or refitted most of the homes here.  In doing some research, I learned that property values in SF are sky high.  There’s only so much land here, so it’s at a premium.  I would later learn that there are house back up in there that go for a couple hundred million.  Couple.  Hundred.  Million.

I’ll leave you with that.


Coming up:  A tourist’s life at Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, a cruise in the Bay, Alcatraz and Union Square

The Road Less Travelled #7

Sokol Blosser Winery in the Willamette Valley wine growing region in Oregon

Oregon Wine Country

It’s just a short drive from Portland to Dundee where many wineries are situated.  Strip malls and stop lights every ten feet eventually gives way to vineyards and random roadside shops.  For me, it was an enjoyable drive.  What made me a little hectic was figuring out where to actually stop.  If you have a particular taste for a certain varietal, you can do your research and figure out which winery offers what you’re looking for.  Although I much prefer reds, I was open to anything.  I think I was just looking for the experience.  I had never been to a winery before, didn’t know what to expect.  I had certain impressions in my mind.  Is this going to be snobby?  Will it be expensive?  Am I going to have to make an embarrassed about-face when I realise I’m in over my head, like that one time I went to Pacific Railcar in Los Angeles on a suggestion, only to discover that the restaurant was WAY out of my budget.  (Thankfully, many restaurants now have their menus posted outside and on websites just to save trouble.)

Sometimes when I travel I get this thing inside my brain.  I’m not sure I can explain it to you all; sometimes I worry about how I will be received.  Yes, this is 2012, but you know–I’ll leave it alone.  At any rate, all this worrying turned out to be for nothing.  There are a dozen wineries in this area.  If you’re being random like I was, the little blue signs tell you which direction from the road and how far.  Despite all the suggestions I received, I just picked one.  I couldn’t tell what from what on the websites, and I was just making myself more confused.  I ended up at Sokol Blosser for the first stop.  The lady there was really nice.  I told her I was new to wine tasting and didn’t know all the particulars.  She didn’t look down her nose at me, she helped me out and explained the whole process.

I liked their wines and ended up buying a rose pinot noir.  I didn’t even know such a thing existed.  That’s how new I am to this, and I think that’s the whole point:  to discover something random.  Maybe it’s something you’ve always wanted to try but never got a chance to, or maybe it’s something you’ve never even heard of.  Maybe it was a recommendation but you couldn’t find it.  That’s what I ended up loving about the whole wine tasting thing.

Now, I know there are a ton more that I could have went to but I’m a serious lightweight.  Yes, I know you don’t have to drink the whole thing, but I did anyway and I knew that if I had anymore within that hour or so I’d end up either dancing on the tabletops or in jail, take your pick.  (Tip:  Don’t drink and drive!)  Besides, I still had to get to my final destination.  I started so late in the day that if I dallied too much I’d end up driving after dark.  The road I planned to take was described as windy and curvy, not a good idea for me to be on it after dark as my nighttime vision is not really that great.

I continued on 99W (I think.  It’s been a few days so now I can’t remember.)  This really is very pleasant.  There was not a lot of traffic and the countryside is very beautiful.  You will find there are many random wineries up and down this road.  I planned one more stop at the Willamette Valley Winery just outside of Salem.  I know that many of you have told me to get a map, and as of this writing I finally have one and that’s because of this whole incident:

I got to Corvallis, not realising that I had already missed the turn off to Salem.  I was lost, but not really lost.  You know how you know where you are but not in conjunction with where you’re trying to get to.  I was so fixated on trying to figure out where I was, that I didn’t realise how I was driving.  I switched lanes several times, blinker in the wrong direction, stopped dead in the street, other cars blaring their horns at me.  Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t just pull over.  I was trying to read road signs but not really paying attention to what was going on around me.  It’s little wonder that I got pulled over.


The officer turned out to be very nice.  “Ma’am, you were swerving all over the road there, made a left turn but your right turn signal was on.  Are you okay to drive?”  I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t.  I have this horrible thing where I laugh when it’s inappropriate because I’m nervous.  Thankfully, I was smart enough to put the wine in the trunk.  Then I couldn’t find the registration to my vehicle.  I had just updated the tags before I left on my trip.  I ended up giving him a copy of the title.  He said he wouldn’t know the difference anyway.  He doesn’t encounter Florida drivers very often.  (I am licensed and registered in Florida.)  Then we talked about the military a little bit.  I have a big Army National Guard sticker in the back window.  I think he was trying to assess whether I was drunk or high or otherwise unfit to drive.  He also instructed me that I was pronouncing Willamette incorrectly.  I had been saying willa-MET.  It’s wil-LAM-met.   Having determined that I’m not a DUI and just some lost tourist, he helped me out and gave me directions to where I was trying to go.  He did not give me a ticket but told me to pull over the next time I get confused.  Nice guy.  In DC, that would have been a $300 ticket, I assure you.

I got to Willamette Valley Vineyard with no further issues.  This is a big place that obviously caters to crowds.  There were already 15 other people in the tasting room when I showed up, so I didn’t get the same attention as I did at Sokol Blosser.  Still, just in listening to the other patrons I learned a few things.  I guess I could have been a little more demanding and made my presence known, but the two girls behind the counter looked harried enough and I’m not that type of customer.  I did buy a whole cluster pinot noir and a riesling.  I’m not a huge fan of whites, but I really liked it and I am planning a seafood dinner for when I get back to my parents’ house.  I think it will go well with the fish.  My parents really don’t drink.  My dad might have a glass every once in awhile, which is good because the rest of the bottle will be for me.

I got back on the road to Corvallis, making sure to drive at a moderate speed and in the correct lane.  I received many suggestions from TA on which road to take to the coast.  In the end, I fate decide.  When I go to the Rt 34/20 split, whatever lane was in that’s where I went.  I ended up on Rt 34.  There were less cars going this way anyway.  And this turned out to be such a scenic drive.  It is very windy and curvy, but the road is tree-lined in some parts and then there are these fabulous country houses and farms.  I thought to myself as I drove, “Now, this is good American farm country.”  You go through Suislaw National Forest, and for the most part there was nobody on the road.  I didn’t pass anybody going west, and only a few cars heading back east.  I rolled the windows down, turned the music off and just enjoyed the drive.  Very nice.

It was bright and sunny the whole drive, but as soon as I got to Hwy 101 the fog just rolled in.  It felt like the temperature dropped 10 degrees.  My AC had conked out earlier as I left Portland.  I thought it had turned back on, but no, that’s just the cold wind coming off the Pacific.  It was gorgeous, but a little gloomy.  I did stop to take some pictures but by this point I was getting tired and hungry.

I arrived in Florence not too much later.  The front desk guy at the hotel was really nice.  He gave me a dozen restaurant suggestions and told me I had special eyes.  He said he was a photographer and he notices things about people.  I was too tired to dine out, so I opted for a Thai place instead.  It wasn’t very good.  Noodles too sticky, broccoli very mushy.

I was too sleepy to even do my homework.  I turned the heat on full blast and crawled into bed.  At 10AM, I was still there.  I almost never sleep that late but I obviously needed it.  I think I’m just worn out.

The drive down into California was pretty nice even though it was grey and foggy.  This plays to my gothic sensibilities.  I like how mysterious the road looked.  The fog wasn’t particularly thick but visibility was lowered and it’s like you don’t know where the road is going.  I felt like I was the first person to discover the area, or something.

One thing I did notice is how low lying the coastal area is.  I also saw Big Voice speakers.  It didn’t occur to me that this area could be subject to tsunami.  This is all part of the Ring of Fire, of course, so earthquake and volcanic activity is prevalent.  I passed a few signs that talked about a major tsunami that occurred in the late 1800s.

The road veers off from the coast a little bit into a forested area.  Very randomly, I saw a big white horse coming out of the trees.  It made me think of Shadowfax, Lord of Horses, when he comes to take Gandalf and Pip to Minas Tirith.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it.  I’ve read the book and seen the movie enough times for all of us.

I went through Bandon and Port Orfond (I might have this name wrong.)  Great views of the ocean.  I think cliff driving is not as bad as mountain driving.  There’s probably no difference, only what I perceive in my mind.  I was sorry to see Oregon go as I crossed the border after Brookings.  I thought to myself, “Good-bye, Oregon.  It was a pleasure to have known you.”

I planned to stay in Crescent City but the night I was in Florence, I fell asleep making the reservation.  When I woke up the next morning the hotel had sold out.  When I arrived in Crescent City, it looked sketchy to me.  I’m sure it’s not that bad.  Apparently there was some damage from the tsunami spawned after the large Japan earthquake in 2011.  I wasn’t really that tired so I kept going until Eureka.

Even though this is not the happening place, I ended up staying here two nights.  I had major homework to do, plus I needed a day to recharge and plan the San Francisco portion of the trip.  Let me tell you that I had some serious frustrations when it came to San Francisco, but that will be for tomorrow’s post!

Tomorrow:  If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear flowers in your hair


The Road Less Travelled #6

Food trucks are a mainstay in Portland’s culinary scene


Portland, Oregon

I am so surprised by Portland, you sly devil, you.  I didn’t think I would like it.  I have always thought, “Portland?  What’s in Portland?”  Let me explain this by saying that as a teenager I worked up a resentment towards the west coast.  In high school, I moved from Japan to Yuma, Arizona.  I hated Yuma, and by greater extension the entire west coast.  Family trips took us to Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles and Las Vegas frequently, but I turned my nose up.  I went to college in Tucson for a little while before moving back east to Florida, where we are originally from.  Then I moved to DC for a job.  I have always hated coming out west to visit my parents.  I just saw the west coast as a dreadful bore.  I lived in California prior to going to Japan, but I had never been further north than Fresno.  But everywhere is not the same.  You really can’t apply such broad generalisations across 1500 miles of coastline and three states.  Trips like these can open your eyes a little bit.  I now see that the Pacific Northwest is NOTHING like the desert southwest.    You really cannot even compare the two at all.  It’s like apples and kumquats.


I was up very early to switch hotels.  It was unfortunate that I could not stay at the hostel for at least another night.  I don’t know if I could stay in a hostel for a whole week or so, but a few nights to help offset the costs of hotel prices is great.  I was able to find a reasonable rate at a Quality Inn by the Convention Center.  This turned out to be a good location for me.  I notice other travellers prefer to stay in boutique hotels.  One day I will too–right after I win the lottery.

The morning time weather was not as pleasant as yesterday evening’s weather, but I believe it is because my body chemistry is out of whack.  When I left Kuwait it was about 125 degrees.  When I left Yuma, it was about 110 degrees.  I absolutely HATE being hot, but right now, anything below 90 degrees feels freezing.  I had the heat on full blast as I drove up Grand Ave to the hotel.  I even had on a hoodie.  I don’t typically wear socks but I had my Army socks in the trunk, and I was seriously considering pulling over to put them on.  It’s that ridiculous.  Because of how cold I perceived it to be, I decided to drive over to Washington Park after checking in.  I was thinking, “What if they have the AC on in the bus?  I’ll DIE.”

Washington Park was beautiful, and because I was there so early (around 8AM), it was like I had the whole place to myself.  There was a jogger or a dog walker, but it was basically empty.  I like the houses.  Do people actually live there?  I went into the International Rose Test Garden.  I had absolutely no idea there were so many varieties of roses.  I’m not big into flowers (I prefer candy or diamonds), but every girl appreciates a pretty rose on a special occasion.  I don’t think you’re allowed to pick these though.  I’m sure that’s a great way to get a fine and booted out of the park.  A huge tour bus had rolled up so that destroyed the peaceful solitude I was enjoying.  I think I got some great photos, and I got to listen in on master gardener talk.  A volunteer group was there, beautifying the roses, and I sat on a bench and listened to them for a little bit.

I wanted to go to the Japanese Garden and Pittock Mansion but I was there way too early.  One opened at 10 and the other 11.  It was hardly 9AM.  I could have waited around, but to be frank, I lived in Japan for a long time.  I’ve seen my share of Japanese gardens.  A pity about the mansion though, I was reading there were some spectacular views.  I kept telling myself to go back but I never did.

As it was warmer in the day, I returned the car to the hotel and decided to get on the bus.  I found the Portland bus system to be very easy to understand.  They have a mobile website you can use to get to your destination.  You do have to understand which direction you need though.  Courtney from the hostel told me that I should go to Alberta Street because it was more mellow than Hawthorne.  I found the appropriate bus easily enough but I got on in the wrong direction.  No big deal.  The bus took me up Trilligrew?  Twilliger?  Some parkway that starts with a T that goes up by all the hospitals.  This was not a bad way to see some of the city.  The bus passed Pioneer Square, food carts, and a shopping area, so that saved me the trouble of trying to figure out where some things were.  And I already know what bus to get on!

This bus did loop back around and I did eventually get to Alberta Street.  Courtney was right.  Way more mellow.  Not as crowded and still rather hip.  I felt like Hawthorne was trying hard not to be cool, while Alberta was like “whatever.”  I stopped to get a waffle at Waffle Window and meandered down for a little while, window shopping.  So far my impression of Portland is a great one.  I wonder if the rents are expensive?

I got back on the bus and went to China Town.  I am sure there is a better way to sightseeing, but my method is “do whatever strikes you.”  Since I was not driving, I did not care that I was going back and forth from one end to the other.  The day warmed up greatly and I was just having a good time.  I went to Lan Su Chinese garden.  Lovely place.  Tranquil when there aren’t kids screaming.  Some lady brought her kids and I don’t think they were having a good time.  They wailed from one end of the place to the other before they finally left.  And they were like 8 years old, way too old to be carrying on.  Everything isn’t for everybody though.  I bought a post card at the gift shop and then walked up and down the area for a little while.  I’m told that this is where the best night spots are, but I never did get a chance to party in Portland.  That just means I’ll need to come back again.

Next I went through the Pearl District, or the Pearl, as the locals say.  Upscale, luxury, trendy coffee spots, and the like.  This is my scene, or what I wish was my scene.  I kept walking until I found some food carts on 5th.  There were about four Thai spots, and I couldn’t decide.  I picked one, ordered and then was immediately mad at myself because the other one looked better.  Oh well.  It was still good though, and cheap.  I can see that a person can get real fat here in Portland, but what I notice is that nobody is fat!  That’s because everyone bikes everywhere.  I love that.  I love how the city has incorporated biking into its culture.  There are bike lanes all over the place, not just on one street.  There are places to park the bikes.  You don’t have to scrounge around for a street sign or a light post to lock it up.  If only people in DC would bike more, but I also notice that Portland is so much more laid back.  Everyone is very chill and casual.  Even the office workers in downtown Portland aren’t all stuck up and snobby like they are in DC.

I like this place.

But you know, every city has its seamier side.  Way too many vagrants.  I don’t call these people homeless because they probably technically aren’t.  Most of them are teenagers and young adults that probably ran away from decent homes because they didn’t want to do their homework.  I’m sure a few of them escaped abusive homes, but there’s way too many of them to say they all came from bad circumstances.  They were EVERYWHERE, loafing on street corners, busking and begging for money.  There was a group of kids near Pioneer Square that had this gigantic cardboard sign that said they were missing children.  Get a job.

I walked down to the waterfront, and even though it’s early yet I’m really tired.  I walked back to the hotel to get on some homework and an early night’s sleep.

Next day I woke up early to workout in the hotel gym.  Hah.  That was a joke.  The hotel gym turned out to be one 1970s treadmill that didn’t even work.  Very randomly, right then and there I decided to go to Multnomah Falls instead.  I had been reading about the Columbia Gorge area, and I was thinking that I might have to give it a pass because I saw it as going backwards in my itinerary.  Glad I didn’t.  I took the scenic route to view the different falls in the area:  Horsetail, Wakeenah and Multnomah.  I could have kept going, because it’s really only about 60 miles but I didn’t want to get too far away and I had some other things planned.  I turned around at Cascade Locks and went back to the city.

Time to find more food carts.  I wanted the ones on 10th and Alder because someone said those were the best.  I’ll be the judge of that.  I used some website to find out what was available and I decided that I wanted a crepe from Snow White House.  I notice that I only eat crepes when I’m out of town.  I got on the bus, the wrong bus, actually, and ended up somewhere.  I don’t know where I was but it wasn’t too far away and the neighbourhood was cute!  It reminded me of the gentrified parts of Brooklyn.  I could live there, most definitely.  I think I was in NW somewhere.

I walked back down, and just happened upon Powell’s City of Books, another place I intended to visit.  That’s a lot of books.  I’m up to my eyeballs in reading right now so I didn’t buy anything.  You could really be in there all day long, browsing through stuff.  If you can think of it, they have it, and if not, they’ll know how to get it.  They have book signings and discussions and all kinds of stuff going on in there.  Nice place.

I found my food carts, and there were a TON of them.  Unfortunately, Snow White House was closed.  That’s fine.  As I stood on the corner, struggling between a bulgogi taco or Hawaiian plate lunch, my eye fell on a cart that had both crepes AND Filipino food.  I haven’t had good Filipino food since I left Japan.  I know that sounds weird, but my mom had a Filipino friend who made us the best dishes all the time.

Remy, the owner of the truck was probably the nicest person I have ever met.  I told her I wanted a crepe and she said, “Okay, let me make something really special for you.”  And boy, did she make me something really special.  She made me the mother of all crepes.  That thing was gi-normous.  And she did it with such love, too!  While she worked, we talked a minute and she told me that she graduated from a culinary school around the corner.  When she was done she presented me with a lovely golden crepe with nutella, strawberries, chocolate sauce and cinnamon.  She wanted to add caramel but I begged her not to.  The calories, my God!  That thing was heavenly though.  I also ordered vegetarian lumpia rolls.  She actually cut up fresh vegetables right there before my eyes.  I doubt they do that in restaurants.  Usually eggroll type things are premade and frozen.   These weren’t even the skinny ones.  She made them fat.  God, they were so good.

She took a picture of me and the crepe, and told me that she was going to put it on her digital picture frame thing she has in the window.  I’m gonna be Portland famous!  I ate the crepe at her window because there was no way I could carry that thing and walk around.  I enjoyed my lumpia rolls at Pioneer Square.  I went back there because I actually needed to do a spot of shopping.  I don’t have any “winter” clothes.  I know it’s not winter but I checked the forecast for San Francisco (the next major leg of my trip) and I was dismayed to find that the average daily highs are in the 60s.  Might as well be snowing!

I sat outside Nordstrom’s and listened to a busker.  Not one of those hooligan street kids, but a well-fed college guy who played the saddest songs I have ever heard.  I wanted to put a dollar in his guitar case but he left before I could finish eating.

I bought a long-sleeve thermal top because I planned a long run the next day.  I realised later how ridiculous I was being.  The top I bought was better suited for severe cold weather.  I tried it on at the hotel and immediately took it off because it was bloody hot in that thing.  It really is not that cold; I just can’t adjust.  I walked back to the hotel via the Burnside Bridge.  I enjoy how walkable this city is, and anyway I had to work off that crepe.  It was not my intention to eat so heavily because I planned a large dinner at Portland City Grill later that night.

When I got back to the hotel I took a long nap.  So, I didn’t realise how exhausting road tripping can be.  Almost every night you’re in a new city and you want to explore.  You stay up late and get up early.  You’re ripping and running from one to the other.  On top of all that, you’re not even eating right.  When you’re on the road, almost every meal is dined out.  Even if you avoid fast food, you’re still packing on the calories, not eating enough vegetables, drinking too much and everything else.  Lucky I’ve been running and hiking or else they might have to slather me in butter to squeeze me out of my car.  But all of this is taking its toll on me.  I’m whooped.  I see now that it was a good idea to delete Seattle and not even attempt Yellowstone.  (Those were my original plans.)  It’s time to start heading back home.

Dinner at Portland City Grill.  MY GOD.  Heaven.  Heaven.  Heaven.  I went early-ish to ensure that I could get a window seat.  When you dine alone, sometimes they like to stick you in the corner and save the best tables for couples.  What a great view.  I could see Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helen and could just barely glimpse Mt. Rainier.  The server pointed it out to me, or I wouldn’t have known.  Beautiful.

Service at Portland City Grill is impeccable.  The food is outstanding.  I have dined in several higher end restaurants, and I think Portland City Grill is now one of my favourites.  I went back and forth between steak and seafood.  I really wanted fish, but then I wanted a steak, but then I wanted fish.  Steak.  Fish.  Steak.  Yeah, steak.  I ordered the ribeye and a jumbo prawn accompaniment.  My server paired the course with a cabernet sauvignon out of Washington state.  Millbrandt.  WOW.  Since I didn’t want to look trashy, I tried hard not to guzzle it down.  You’re not supposed to guzzle wine anyway, but it was so good and complemented my steak so well.  I need to find their website to see if I can order something.  There is a decent wine seller around the corner from my office, but I’m pretty sure they don’t carry anything from Washington state.

I wasn’t supposed to have dessert, but my server talked me into the Oregon berry pavlova.  It’s really light so if you want something sweet but don’t want anything heavy this is the way to go.  I racked up a $100 tab, but this is why I tried to stay in hostels:  SO I CAN EAT!

The reason I didn’t want dessert at the restaurant is because I wanted to try this place Cacao that I read about on TA.  It was just a couple blocks up, so I went.  Lots of chocolate, but the best thing they have are these delightful little cups of chocolate.  Liquid dreams.  If you are a chocolate lover, you have to come here.  The guy behind the counter was really nice.  No one else was in there so we talked about Portland for awhile.  He wants to open his own restaurant and feels like Portland is on the edge of something big.  He talked me into buying some local chocolate, beans grown in Oregon.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t good.  Too bitter.  But my little cups of chocolate love were so good.  The one with cinnamon is the best.  Don’t turn your face up when you see how small the cups are; it’s all you need.

I had that food drunk feeling again as I stumbled to the bus stop.  I could have walked–well, rolled, but I was lethargic and satiated.  I slept so good which energised me for my 15 mile run in Forest State Park the next morning.  This is the longest I have ever run in training before.  I did the Leif Ericsson trail, which was supposed to be under construction at mile 5.25 but when I got there it was open so I kept going until 7.5 and then turned around.  It’s the longest I’ve run in training, and also the fastest I’ve done in distance.  That’s a great trail to run on.  My knees did not hurt like they usually do when I run on asphalt or concrete.  I’m so glad someone suggested it to me; otherwise, I would have been lazy and just skipped the run.  After last night’s dinner I don’t need to be skipping anything!

This is my last day in the city.  I only had two full days.  I know there’s so much more that I could have done but I’m happy with what I saw and I had a great time.  I really love Portland.  It was so unexpected.  It’s friendly and open, with food to die for.  I love the laid back atmosphere.  I will definitely be visiting again.

Tomorrow:  Wine country, fun with police in Corvallis, a scenic drive and the Oregon coast

The Road Less Travelled #5

Mount Hood from Mirror Lake

I left Bend, Oregon rather early in the morning so I could get a jump start on the drive through Mount Hood Territory.  Even though the long weekend is over, who knows the traffic and crowds I might run into.  It’s not a bad drive and it was pretty easy going so I made good time getting into the area.  There must be a fire or something around the Warm Springs area because it was quite smoky.  There were some parts I could hardly see, and because I don’t know the area too well, I wondered if the situation spread up into Mount Hood.  After awhile, it cleared up though.  I hope there is no loss of life and not much damage to property.

The mountain driving in this area was not as hectic as going through Yosemite or the area around Lake Tahoe.  Most of the time I didn’t even realise that I was up in elevation.  Lord knows my nerves can’t take much more.  I decided on the Mirror Lake hike based on some information I had read.  All the running and the hiking is kicking my butt so I have had to make decisions on shorter hikes.  Plus, I’m alone anyway and it really isn’t safe to take on these long hikes by yourself when you haven’t got anybody around looking for you.  I always text my sister and dad to let them know where I am but what are they going to do if I don’t return to my car by nightfall because I’ve fallen and twisted my ankle somewhere, or worse, a bear has eaten me!  I’m not worried about bears, but a twisted ankle is not far-fetched.

The Mirror Lake hike is easy, only about three miles round-trip.  The path is very obvious and since it’s a popular hike you won’t be alone out there.  When I first got there, I thought I had been duped.  The review I read claimed there was a great view of Mount Hood but I came the backwards way around the loop.  “Where’s this Mount Hood?” I muttered to myself.  I kept walking and then suddenly there it was!  Framed by trees and the lake, it made a perfect picture.  Very impressive.  It’s very crowded out there though, so no chance for sitting down and reflecting in God’s backyard.  A lot of kids and dogs and whatnot.  One kid was screaming for her father.  He was hiding in the bushes (some reason he thought it was funny to frighten the girl half to death) and she was crying, “Daddy, come out, I can’t find you.”  That’s real nice.  I passed him and he was crouched down.  He made that “Shhh” face, while snickering softly.  Hey, buddy, don’t include me in your twisted little game.  I only stayed a little while.

As I came back down to my car it was then I noticed all the signs telling you that you have to pay to use the area.  I mean, there are A LOT of signs.  I have no idea how I missed them.  I clearly was on another planet when I started.  There are three signs as you start to walk across the log bridge and then when you cross there are two more.  I do have an appropriate pass to let me use the area for free, but that doesn’t help if law enforcement comes by and sees that I don’t have the pass hanging in the window.  Anyway, you’re supposed to go to these specified locations to buy a pass.  If you have an America the Beautiful pass (which I do) you’re supposed to go the location and get the Northwest pass.  It’s free, but you still need that pass in your window, according to the sign.  I don’t know what kind of fines they give out, or if they tow you or anything.  Luck was on my side because I had no tickets in the windshield and my car was still there.  The fee is only $5 if you don’t have a National Park pass.  Save yourself the headache and pay the fee.  It’s not a big deal and the money goes to keeping up the trails and stuff.  There’s restoration going on at Mirror Lake, and somebody has to go up there to pick up all the trash that people leave behind.

I went back up the hill to Government Camp for lunch.  I ate at Huckleberry Inn Restaurant.  I just had a shrimp basket that was pretty decent.  I think when you’re hungry you’ll eat anything.  This renewed me for the 55 mile drive into Portland.  It was slow-going through Sandy and Gresham.  Stop lights every ten feet but this is the way Google Maps took me to the Hawthorne Hostel.  All the hostels were booked solid, so I could only get one night.  I liked the Hawthorne.  There was definitely much more of a community vibe going on than the Yosemite Bug.  I actually met people at the hostel who were really nice.  I exchanged stories with a couple of girls from Massachusetts.  I told them about the bear attacking my car and they told me about the random rancher woman in Bend, Oregon who followed them from a crowded campsite just to let them know that they could stay on her land for free.  Since those girls had each other, they decided to take the woman up on her offer.  I don’t get no such luck.  When you’re on your own you have to be a little more cautious.  I can’t go around accepting propositions from strange folk.

Courtney, at the front desk, was so helpful.  She loaded me down with a bus map, brochures of interesting neighbourhoods, a circular with nightlife information and just a boatload of tips and things I should try.  It’s 5PM, and if I were in NYC, I’d just be crawling out of bed for cocktails, followed by dinner and then dancing till dawn.  I don’t know if that’s the scene in Portland.  I want to find out but toothpicks are holding my eyes open.

It was too early for bed even though I was bone tired.  I have been really burning the midnight oil.  I get up at 4AM almost everyday to do homework.  About 5 I start my run.  Depending on how far I’m driving and if there are any planned stops along the way I try to get on the road by 630 at the very latest.  Driving takes its toll on you, and then hiking and all that.  I’m running out of gas and quickly.  I know it seems like a lot to be going to school, training for a marathon and on a road trip.  There’s just no other way.  One would have to give and I’m not prepared to make any sacrifices.  Last year was sacrifice; this year is doing what I want.

I explored Hawthorne Boulevard (Street?).  Cute but… So when you walk down Hawthorne words like vintage, sustainable, and organic come to mind.  These are buzzwords right now.  Everybody wants to be gluten-free and organic and all that jazz.  I’m not a doctor but unless you have celiac there’s no real reason for anybody to be gluten-free.  Anybody can slap a label on something and call it organic.  The FDA now regulates it but are people aware that big companies like Wal-Mart and Safeway can pay for the rights to use the organic label whether their crap is organic or not?  At any rate, this is a travel blog and not a diatribe on big business and what sells.  You do what you want; it’s your money.

Vintage is cool and all, and I love to be unique and funky but I can dig around in my grandmother’s closets for free.  I just browsed through the stores.  If you could see me you might think that I am a person who would love Hawthorne but I recognise a gimmick when I see one.  I know there are food trucks and stuff, but I wasn’t ready to really get into the city just yet.  I opted for Thai food at My Thai.  I dined al fresco.  I love saying that.  It makes me feel rich.  The weather in Portland is gorgeous.  Not too hot.  Not too cold.  Perfect for outdoor seating and a salad wrap followed by drunken noodles.  I could have fallen asleep at the table if the server hadn’t come asking me if I wanted some dessert.  Because I saw a creperie just down the street I told him no.  Two minutes later, I was al fresco again with an espresso and a crepe la delice.  So good.  Sometimes you get a crepe and they use cheap chocolate and it’s really sweet and turns your stomach.  Other creperies use Nutella, which I like but if you eat too much of it, it’s not a pretty picture.  I don’t know what these people were using but it was some darn good chocolate and the berry flavoured white sauce?  God!  Food coma, here I come.

I pretty much staggered back to the hostel in a food-drunken stupor.  It’s not even 7PM and I can hardly stay awake.  I force myself to hold on for another hour.  One of my roommates tells me that if I’m going south I should avoid the hostel in San Diego.  Her entire van was stolen from there.  I don’t plan on going to San Diego, thank God.  The bed is very cosy.  The sheets smell like fabric softener, and I am out like a light.

Tomorrow:  Portland, the sly devil… Food.  International Rose Test Garden.  Food.  Chinese Garden.  Food.  Pioneer Square.  Food.  Powell’s City of Books.  Food.  Buskers.  Food.  FOOD.  FOOD!

The Road Less Travelled #4

Crater Lake, Oregon

Redding, CA to Bend, OR

I arrived in Reno with the intention of going to Lassen Volcanic National Park, but when I woke up I started doing a little bit of research and I realised that I would not be able to handle the drive.  Lassen’s website described the roads as “treacherous” with “2000 foot drop-offs.”  Reviewers called the roads “dangerous” and “scary.”  I already had a big problem driving in Yosemite, I’m not going some place described as “scary.”  No thanks.

I drove right on passed it and eventually stopped in Redding, California.  I was supposed to keep going to Mount Shasta City but they don’t have my hotel chain there so I stopped early.  I will have to say that Redding, California is one of the nicest places I’ve ever visited.  I mean nice as far as the people being friendly and outgoing.  The city is clean and open and everybody looks happy and healthy.  I just really liked it there.

I was able to check in very early, which was a good thing because the place eventually sold out.  If I had stopped in Lassen I probably would not have been able to get a room.  The front desk clerk told me a good spot to get some eats, but I drove around town for a little while and found the mall.  It’s not big and they definitely don’t have any haute couture but I wasn’t really looking to shop.  I found one shoe store I liked but the store was run by the one rude person in the whole town.  I decided not to buy from him and then found another shoe store I ended up trying to buy the place out.  They had these weird ass shoes called Dancekos.  I’ve never heard of that brand.  They’re like clogs, but not.  They’re expensive as shit, but they’re comfortable.

Since I had a long run planned for the next day I mapped out a few spots.  I do have a GPS watch but when you don’t know a city, you have to drive around to make sure places have sidewalks or bike lanes.  You also need to look at the neighbourhood to make sure you’re not running through gangsta territory, or some such.  There could also be places where pedestrians are not allowed.  Because the run is so long I have to start before sunup; I have to find these things out before I hit the ole dusty trail.

I went to a place called Duke’s for dinner.  I brought along my textbooks and did some reading while waiting for my meal to arrive.  The server was really nice.  Like I said, everyone in the city was just really nice.  I told my dad it’s because this is northern California and they have a lot of wine up here.  Wine makes people happy.  Nothing wrong with that.  As I finished dinner the server asked me if I wanted dessert.  I was on the fence.  Long run tomorrow, don’t want anything sitting on my gut, but then you need the calories.  In Lafayette, Louisiana I discovered that I liked bread pudding and since it was on the menu I decided to get it.  The server says, “Do you want the fried bread pudding?”  Fried bread pudding?  Sure, why not.

I busted out laughing when she eventually brought out the fried bread pudding.  I thought she was joking.  That thing was gi-normous.  I thought she was going to break off a little piece and serve it to me, but no, that whole damn thing was mine.  Good God.  “I can bring you a box,” she offered.  No, no, I don’t think so.  I took about two bites and I was already full but then I was addicted.  “Yes, yes, please bring a box.”  It was good but it’s just crazy the portion size.  That thing could probably feed my whole unit.

I got up the next day and ran 13 miles.  Not that anybody cares how my marathon training is going but I have been having difficulties on my long runs.  This was my first successful long run in several weeks.  I believe it was the scenic route.  I ran through some neighbourhood that was just absolutely adorable.  It’s pre-dawn, the sky is orangey-blue-pinkish.  The stars are still twinkling.  There isn’t a sound to be heard and as I come up a hill I get an amazing view of the mountains outside the city.  How can you not be motivated to run with scenery like that?  After that, every step seemed so easy.  I ran through a shopping district.  It’s Sunday morning so there aren’t too many people about but everyone I pass says good morning.  You don’t get that in DC, let me tell you.  It’s just great.

After the run, I packed up, ate the rest of that bread pudding and hit the road.  The drive from I5 to Rt 97 is lovely.  Too bad there’s still a lot of smoke and haze in the area from a nearby fire.  I believe it’s contained though.  I couldn’t see Mt. Shasta too well, but the leaves are just turning and it’s just gorgeous.  Most of the drive to Klamath Falls was pretty nice, except for getting stuck behind some slow moving trucks.  That’s to be expected though and there’s nothing really you can do about it.  It was a little too busy for passing most of the way.

I passed a restaurant called Bar 49 and the sign said “now serving good food.”  It made me wonder what they had been serving before.  I then noticed that the place was boarded up so maybe that good food wasn’t so good after all.  I stopped for lunch in Klamath Falls.  I went to some Chinese place.  The place is real quiet but then again late in the morning on a Sunday people are either at church or still in bed.  Most of the shops were closed.  I took a few pictures of the river and the big train in the park before getting back on the road again.

Once again, I hate not having a real map.  I printed out this thing from Google maps but it wasn’t a real help.  I was trying to get to Crater Lake National Park.  Google maps told me to take Rt 138.  I saw Rt 62 and Rt 402 but no 138.  I felt like I had missed the turn off.  If I had a real map I might have been able to try to figure out where I was.  I ended up turning around and almost hitting a motorcyclist in the process.  I don’t find that funny at all.  Every year hundreds of bikers are killed because someone is not paying attention.  I wasn’t on my phone or looking at that stupid Google map.  I just didn’t see the guy.  Underneath his helmet, I knew he was given me the world’s dirtiest look.  Sorry, guy, I will pay more attention.  There are lots of motorcyclists around here so please be on the look out for these guys.  They want to enjoy their road trip too.

I ended up taking 402 to 62 and entering through what I found to be the South entrance.  The place was quite crowded.  There was a long queue to get into the park.  There were queues at the bathrooms.  A guess one guy was tired of waiting so he decided to use the ladies’ loo.  He was in there just washing his hands like nothing in the world.  A woman said, “Hey, I think this is the ladies room.”  He just shrugged so nonchalantly and walked off.  I guess it takes all kinds.

Crater Lake is a place I’ve always wanted to visit.  I saw it in a textbook when I was middle school.  We were studying volcanoes and there was a picture of the lake.  It was just so beautiful.  I remember staring at it for ages, even flipping back to it long after we covered volcanoes.  Every time I think about a lake, I imagine Crater Lake.  When I was telling people about my road trip, I talked about Crater Lake and nobody knew what I was talking about.  They didn’t know where it was, and when I said Oregon, I just got this blank stare.  “What’s in Oregon?”  Crater Lake!  What’s that?  Never mind.

All the scenic lookouts were packed.  I had to get inventive with my parking because there really just wasn’t any room.  I think there’s a trail up there but I didn’t go because of the heights and the fact that I was wearing Crocs and not boots.  People standing WAY too close to the edge made me nervous, and I don’t mean that in some kind of paranoid way.  When a sign says, “Do not cross,” I guess I heed the warning where other people take it as a challenge.  Some lady had climbed halfway down the slope in her flip flops.  I just left because I didn’t want to see some disaster.

I wish I could have had a more peaceful experience but when you come to a national park on a long weekend this is what you’re going to get but I’m so glad I came.  If ever you’ve been dreaming of going some place, just go.  Don’t let other people try to talk you out of it.

I kept on till Bend, Oregon and stopped for the night.  I was absolutely starving.  The hotel was next to a place called Phoenix Restaurant.  I had a Thai pizza and a glass of Pinot Gris.  Now I’m in Oregon I’ve got to drink only Oregon wines.  I can’t wait to hit some of these wineries.  It’s gonna be like my own personal heaven.


Tomorrow:  Mt. Hood and Portland

bend, oregon.  phoenix restaurant.  quirky town