Sunday, June 10, 2018

Fun in Portland Oregon

Our trip to Oregon/Washington for the Blooms to Brews Marathon was rather short. We flew in Friday night with enough time to catch dinner and a few drinks with Lee and Laura (they arrived hours earlier from San Diego).  We flanked the pre-race night with hotel stays at the boutique chain McMenamin’s.  We discovered this chain in 2012 when we spent a night in downtown Bend, OR at the St. Francis School.  McMenamin’s buys old buildings and repurpose them into hotels with breweries, soaking pools, concert halls, bars, wineries, and other fun things.  

Our Friday night was spent at The Kennedy School - an elementary school opened in 1915 that is now on the National Register of Historic Places.  Every corner of the property is decorated with paintings, concert posters, or other hand-painted touches.  Our room was named for the book Ireland and featured artwork relevant to the story.  The Courtyard Restaurant had to have had over 100 unique light fixtures.   We dined in the school’s Boiler Room which is now the pool hall/game room for the hotel.  We had a hard time picking another bar to drink at:  Cypress featured turntable reggae and rum, Detention played jazz, and Honor played opera.   We chose to have a drink at Honor because the bartender was lonely.   He gave us some insights on activities for our next day (none of which we ended up doing). 

The next morning we mulled over our plans at breakfast.  The waterfalls were too far out of the way of our final destination of Woodland, WA.  It was overcast, so the view of Mt. St. Helen may be limited from its visitor center.  We decided to do some things in Portland but did not know anything about the Portland sites.  The ladies at the next table heard our conversation and ended up giving us two free passes to the Portland Japanese Garden.  Why not?

The gardens were built into a hill overlooking the city. The $15 adult price gained us access to walk the grounds, see special displays (bonsai tree competition), buy gifts / snacks, or listen to the stringed instrument presentation.   We spent our time following the trails and taking pictures.    The weather was cooperating by not raining and giving us some sun for a few minutes.   We spent about 90 minutes walking the grounds.

How did we follow-up the Japanese Garden?  By taking a trip to the Chinese Garden.  The Lan Su Garden was in an up-and-coming area of town. That’s being kind.  There were several nice businesses near the garden, but the area was generally sketchy.   Lan Su is a walled-in oasis in the middle of some run-down areas.   For $10 each we could tour the gardens and dine in the restaurant.  We arrived in time to take a 30 minute (included in price) guided tour of the garden.   Our guide explained how all the components balanced each other and the significance of certain structural elements.  The tour was worth it.   It was amazing how much they squeezed into 2 acres.

For lunch we headed to the Pearl District (hip, clean, higher end than our last location) for lunch at a brewery.  Thankfully two of our favorites were across the street from each other.  Ten Barrel had a 35 minute wait for a table, and Rogue had no wait.  Rogue for the win!  Food was great and there were a number of beers available on tap. 

Before heading out of town for Woodland, WA we stopped at the city’s second Voodoo Doughnuts location.  Our wait here was only ten minutes - much shorter than the line we saw downtown. The people at Voodoo may have been the ones who started the gourmet doughnut craze. We picked up a dozen to eat over the next two days.


After the marathon we headed back to Oregon for a fun afternoon at McMenamins Edgefield.  Located east of Portland Airport the large property was once the county poor farm.  Hotel rooms were created in the main dormitory and the infirmary.  Our room was large, but some of the furnishings were really old and worn, plus we were next to the common bathroom for those choosing rooms without baths.   We heard the clicking of the lock all night.

We spent the day bar hopping the property.  We ate lunch in the old Power House, had cocktails in the stables-turned-distillery, drank wine made on property in the cellar while listening to live music, and had dinner at the main bar.  We enjoyed exploring the gardens and would have considered a round of pitch and putt if it wasn’t raining.   Another unique aspect of the property was the in-house glass blowing studio.  If we wanted to see a movie the theatre was showing the new Avengers movie released that weekend.   Edgefield was the kind of place you’d check into for the weekend to just relax and explore all the property had to offer.   We liked it enough to consider a return trip back to do just that, or use it as a stop-over for a return trip to Bend.

While Portland isn't famous for sites we found there were plenty of things to see and the best source for options came from talking to the locals.  Servers, housekeepers, bartenders were all very helpful and wanted to be sure we saw some of the best their city had to offer.

Monday, May 21, 2018

2018 Blooms to Brews Marathon Race Report and Video

Here's Holly's report from the 2018 Blooms to Brews Marathon in Woodland, Washington.   This is state number 49 of her quest to complete a marathon in each state.   Hawaii is the last state left.     At the end of her report will be our race video (with some bickering) and some spectating comments from Dave.  We did have a few other experiences while in the Portland (OR) area that we will highlight in another post. 
I think Washington State has the most marathons to choose from.  I was initially looking at the Rock and Roll in Seattle, but I’m not a huge fan of the Rock and Roll races and it runs through a really long tunnel.   I heard about the Blooms to Brews Marathon in Woodland, WA and it sounded perfect.    You run through lilac fields (well, that wasn’t perfect, I hate the smell of lilacs), tulip fields (I love those!) and then finish up with a great party with plenty of beer!   Yep, perfect!

We stayed in Woodland the night before the race and packet pick up was quick and easy.   The race shirt was actually a tank top, which is a new one for me, but I’m sure it will get worn on the boat this summer.   This is a small race with only a couple hundred marathoners and a few hundred more half marathoners, 10kers and relay people.   Lee and Laura would be running the relay with me.    They planned to switch off at the normal 4 person relay points.    
Rain was in the forecast and I was really hoping it would hold off.   We got lucky when we woke up and the rain hadn’t started yet.   We easily made it to the start area and before we knew it the anthem was sung and we were off and running.   Lee was going to run the first quarter with me.    I had a good training cycle and I was really hoping to have a good race.   We were quickly at the back of the pack with only a couple of runners behind us.    The half marathon was starting about 10 minutes after us.    When they caught up to us, I made sure to not speed up and kept to my target pace.    We ran by the lilacs early and thankfully they were not very fragrant!   We also ran by some other bushes and we couldn’t figure out what they were.  We later learned that they were blueberry bushes.   It was a beautiful course and the weather was holding.    

Soon it was time for Lee to take a break and have Laura join me.    This worked out really well for me.  It was nice to break up the race into four sections and recount the previous section with my new partner.   They were both great company!   We ran by the river now and by some gorgeous houses!   We also ran a military mile to remember those lost.  The majority of them were lost due to PTSD.  This was very sad and moving.  It was so many faces. The armed forces make so many sacrifices for all of us and these all made the ultimate sacrifice. 

Soon it was time for another swap and Lee was back while Laura got a break.   This was a loop and Lee was kind enough to point out how far away the swap point was from where we were.  Thanks Lee!   Around this time the sky started getting dark and I could see rain in the direction we were headed.  Lee said it was fog, Lee was wrong.   Also we literally saw the cows coming home.   A huge line of cows were marching single file back to the barn.  They knew the rain was coming.     The rain came!  It started of as a drizzle but then turned into a deluge.   Thankfully it was only for about 4 miles.   Lee got the brunt of it, but Laura got some of it at the last swap point.     The sun actually came out towards the end while we were running on a beautiful section by the river.  It was really pretty.   I was getting tired at this point, but Laura knew I wanted to get in under 5:30 and she was very motivating and never let me give up.  
We finally got to the tulip fields and they were amazing.   We didn’t have much time for a picture as I was trying to hit my goal!   The finish looped back on the start of the course so I knew how far I had to go to get to the finish.   It was far, I was tired, but I kept pushing.   I kept my intervals the entire race and I crossed the finish line in 5:28.   Success!

The medal was very cool.   They still had beer!  They had BBQ sandwiches at the end, but I can’t eat that right after a race.  It would have been nice to have some other easier to digest food.    It started pouring while we were finishing our beers so we headed to the car and hit the road to celebrate in Portland.    I can’t thank Lee and Laura enough for the great company and for keeping me on track.   I had a great time with you both.  Thanks to Dave for braving the weather and being my drive by Kleenex guy.    I highly recommend this race.  It was a beautiful, flat course; great race organization and I loved the medal. 

Here's the video!

Dave's Comments

The process for Race Chasing this one was luckily very simple.  Although they asked drivers to stay off the course the roads were fully open to traffic.  I had the added pressure of getting Laura and Lee to their relay stops.  If I wasn't able to one of them was going to be in for a lot more miles than they planned.

It was great to have company for this race.  Nothing but farmland out here. There was not one business along the course (except for the tulip place at mile 24) so no chance for snacks or fresh coffee.  Luckily we had some Voodoo Doughnuts and cans of iced coffee to hold me over.   The course did have some pretty views along the river and some nice houses to look at.   

Bad news at the finish:  They ran out of 3 varieties of the beers offered at the party.  The halfers and relayers drank them almost dry.   Fortunately there was some bbq beef left and that was pretty tasty.  We didn't stick around too long so we could get on the road and start our afternoon/evening of fun at McMenamins Edgefield.  We were looking forward to spending the day at this cool property that included a brewery, distillery, and winery!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

2018 New Orleans - Part Three

Link to Part Two

Easter Sunday gave us another clear day of weather - perfect for our agenda.  Our plan for the day was to watch three French Quarter Easter Parades, eat another gut-busting brunch, and discover why everyone kept telling us to visit the bars and clubs on Frenchman Street.

Being used to the crowds for Disney World Parades we left our room about an hour before the start of The Historic French Quarter Parade.   Our predetermined viewing position at Conti/Dauphine was empty upon arrival. We occupied ourselves by checking Facebook instead of visiting the corner bar for their wonderful Easter drink specials.   By the time the parade started the street gained a number of spectators, most of them were families with children.   Many people (like us) were dressed for church or a meal out.  This was probably the shortest parade we’ve seen: a couple of convertibles and horse-drawn carriages filled with middle-aged/older women not coordinated enough to throw out the trinkets quickly.  Holly was lucky enough to score a small stuffed rabbit (sourced from Oriental Trader) while Dave got a plastic egg with some peanut butter cups inside.  It was over before it really began....  We had some time to kill before brunch so we sat on a bench outside St. Louis Cathedral in time to watch folks leaving mass.   

Our brunch location was at one of the corners framing Jackson Square: Muriel's.   Their brunch gets pretty high ratings, and there were many things on their menu we wanted to try, but since today was Easter we got a special Easter Menu.  Unfortunately this menu no longer exists online so our entrees will be described as "some kind of fish".   Muriel's was divided into several separate dining rooms with a bar in the back.  The exposed red brick walls helped to highlight the art, empty window frames, and other decor elements.  A jazz band alternated between the two main dining rooms and thankfully did not walk around serenading the diners.

Service at Muriel's was very good, but it did not have the polish that Commander's Palace staff displayed.   Brunch today was also three courses with the price determined by your entree choice.  We could order a al carte so we eliminated one dessert which saved us about $2.  It was more about controlling the food amount vs. saving the money with all courses in the $30-$50 range.   Dave started with the goat cheese/crawfish crepes (a little too much goat cheese but still tasty) and Holly had the gnocchi bolognese.  For entrees Holly chose some kind of pan fried fish and Dave had some kind of other fish with stuffing.  For dessert we shared a profiterole.  Overall a nice meal but if we were to go back we'd sample more off their appetizer and main menu.

After brunch we went back to our hotel to change into more comfortable clothing.  Our next event was parade #2 of the day: The Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade.  We found decent curb space on the skanky section of Rue Royal.   The parade was about 15-20 minutes long with a lot of cars, floats, and dancers.   If you wanted beads this was the parade to watch.    This parade gave viewers a mini Mardi Gras experience with limited hassle and a short time commitment.  Unfortunately Dave did not get a stuffed bunny during this parade.

After the parade we headed back to the Jackson Square area and down Pirate's Alley to have a drink at the Pirate's Alley Cafe.  This is the place we visited on our ghost tour that served absinthe.   Dave decided that 2pm on a hot day was the perfect time to try this drink.   We watched the waitress melt the sugar cube over water, turning the liquid into a cloudy green color.   We found some seats outside to people watch and enjoy the sun.  We thought Dave would enjoy absinthe since he likes liquorice.  He equated it to shoving a whole box of Good n Plenty into his mouth.

Later in the afternoon we headed further down Bourbon Street to watch the Gay Easter Parade.  This was a decent sized parade with a few small floats, bands, and cars.   The emphasis of this family friendly parade was mostly on the costumes.  We acquired more beads that we eventually handed over to children.

Once the parade finished we continued to the edge of Bourbon and walked down Esplanade until we reached the Frenchman's Street area.   This is a small 2-3 block section of town just off the quarter that is host to several bars, restaurants, and clubs.  It's out of the tourist fray and away from the crowds attracted by Huge Ass Beers.  It was still daylight and some of the bars were just getting ready to open.   We walked into the Spotted Cat where a quartet was playing a range of music including jazz and calypso.   We were actually getting hungry and were fortunate enough to get a table at Three Muses under the condition that we leave within 90 minutes.   While dining a guitar/horn duo entertained us.   Three Muses is small but worth the visit for the excellent small plate food.  We enjoyed tacos, mac and cheese, truffle fries, and beer braised pork belly.  We also found another beer we liked:  Korova Milk Porter.

We didn't stay in the area after dinner since we had a 2 mile walk back to the hotel.   Since the weather was so nice, and we'd be heading back to winter in a few days, we decided to spend more time in Pat O'Brien's courtyard.


We successfully avoided another day of hangovers.  Good thing since this morning's adventure involved an 8 mile bicycle tour.  While at home we booked a tour with FreeWheelin' Bikes.   We chose the Creole and Cresent Tour at the price of $50 each.  This tour was scheduled for 3 hours and was conducted mostly outside the French Quarter.  Our group of around 12 toured Treme, The Marigny, City Park, Esplanade Street, and City Park.  We picked this tour because it included a stop in St. Louis Cemetery #3, which was a location Dave wanted to visit.

Memorial/Grave of the Unknown Slave in Treme.
Our tour guide was excellent at both imparting knowledge and keeping us safe.   This was a great way to see parts of town we never would have thought to visit.  The tour was the right length of time and a good value for the price.  We decided the French Market would be a great lunch location  Holly could finally try a mufaletta sandwich and Dave could get his crawfish boil.  Unfortunately the crawfish were only available on the weekends so he "settled" for shrimp and grits.

We bar-hopped the rest of the afternoon visiting B.B. King's (the former Margaritaville,  A band was playing when we ordered our beers, then went on break),  Napoleon House, Chartres House (a favorite spot for a beer from our last trip), Pat O'Brien's, and dinner at Nola.  We have visited Nola (an Emeril LaGassee restaurant) during our other trips here and always enjoyed it.  However the concept has moved away from casual high-end creole cuisine to casual cuisine.  The food was good for what it was, but it was just a shell of its former self.

Napoleon House

Tuesday morning:  We had a mid-afternoon flight home which gave us enough time to have one more walk through The Quarter and two breakfasts.   Cafe Du Monde was pretty empty on a Tuesday morning.   after getting a few more beignets and coffee we visited the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park in the corner of the quarter we haven't visited yet.  The center was a large one-room museum covering many aspects of the city's history and culture.   It was nice to see a good number of visitors at opening.

Breakfast #2 came from the popular local chain Ruby Slipper Cafe.   Their locations always had crowds gathered outside waiting for tables.  Luckily Holly used their "no wait" app to give our name to the hostess before we arrived.   We waited about 5 minutes while other unlucky guests waited over 30 minutes.  The food was big and excellent.  They also offered a bunch of breakfast cocktails including a breakfast margarita.   It was a great final meal in the city.

This trip allowed us to experience more of the culture and diversity of New Orleans.  We had a great time, but unless we have a purpose to return to the Big Easy we probably won't be back for a few years.