A Weekend in Florence (No, Not THAT Florence)

After coming up with my Oregon Bucket List, I of course couldn’t wait to start checking things off the list. Basically, I had created the ideal excuse to travel all over Oregon as often as I can.

Fortunately, I have the perfect partner in crime with whom to travel. In January, Brandon and I spent a weekend in the lovely coastal town of Florence, Oregon. And checking two things off of my list – ATVing through the Oregon Dunes and visiting the Sea Lion Caves. And doing other fun stuff. And eating too much delicious food.

I know that there are (theoretically) people out there who do not care about where they stay when they travel. Any old hostel with a bunk bed and a shared bathroom will do. I, however, am most certainly not one of those people. I don’t need 5 star hotels to be happy (although they don’t exactly make me sad), but I do prefer a certain level of style and cleanliness. Add to that wanting to bring Sydney along for the weekend and it was beginning to feel that I was asking for too much. That despite my regular assertions to the contrary I was, in fact, kind of high maintenance. For a while, it seemed as if my pet-friendly options were going to be choosing between a hotel that was the probable scene of a serial murder or sleeping in my car. VRBO to the rescue. Thanks to the magic of VRBO, we found a perfectly cozy, pet friendly cottage that met my (apparently high) expectations.

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At $70 a night, the price was right, too.

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The simple, tastefully decorated cottage contained a single room, with the bed tucked back into an alcove. Ideal for two people, there was a small sitting area adjacent to a pseudo-kitchen outfitted with small appliances, such as a coffee maker and toaster oven.

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There was also a quaint outdoor seating area with a fire pit
There was also a quaint outdoor seating area with a fire pit

My only complaint was the bathroom (and yet again I’m forced to consider that perhaps I’m underestimating my level of pickiness). It was teeny, tiny with the toilet right next to the small shower that even I found cramped.

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The cottage was perfect for a weekend, but I was tired of that bathroom after a night or two. But then again, our weekend was all about exploring, so we did not spend too much time there anyway. Plus, our cottage was within walking distance of the beach.

We spent the weekend walking hand in hand along the beach and checking things off my bucket list. Despite the cold and windy days, the beach was lovely. As Sydney chased the white foam down the beach, Brandon looked for sea shells and driftwood forts. I made an effort to notice and capture the beauty of the moment in memory and photographs.

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As romantic as strolling down the beach was, we needed a bit more variety mixed into the weekend. A short and scenic drive up the coast brought us to the Sea Lion Caves. Tickets to access the viewing site are $14 for adults.

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The natural sea cave was discovered in 1880 by a local seaman who later purchased the property. Ownership later changed hands and the cave has been open to the public since 1932. Today’s modern elevator makes for much easier (and safer) access than the original stairs. Then again, the price has “improved,” as well. When it opened, access to the caves cost a mere 25 cents. The cave is home to Stellar sea lions. Winter is a great time to visit because the sea lions are often out of the cave during the spring and summer.

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Fair warning: the cave is loud and smelly! Despite that, it is definitely a unique spot worth the price of admission. I was mesmerized by the sea lions, watching as they gracefully jumped into the water or much more clumsily worked their giant bodies back onto the rocks. 
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The trail to the cave offers a fantastic view of the rugged Oregon coastline and there is also a viewing point for the iconic Heceta Lighthouse.

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To add in a bit more adventure, we spent an afternoon among the Oregon Dunes. The dunes were incredible. Stretching as far as you can see along the coast, it was an almost unbelievable sight, the desert juxtaposed against the sea with an unexpected backdrop of evergreen trees.

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DSC02651After first seeing the dunes by foot, we (and by we I mean Brandon) decided renting an ATV would be fun. And it was. It was also simultaneously and equally terrifying.

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The entire time, every single moment, I was equal parts enthralled and in fear of my life. Probably because Brandon was driving. Brandon who, from the moment the employee safety briefing ended, did pretty much everything we were told not to. Stay in the boundaries? That’s just boring. Don’t get within 50 feet of the water? But then you would miss the cool close up view. Whatever you do, don’t go sideways up the hill? Obviously we’re going to do that because it’s way more fun.

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My own personal addendum to the safety briefing: whatever you do, do not leave your cell phone in an unzipped pocket. If you do, you could potentially experience a moment of sheer panic when said phone is no longer in your pocket. After wildly signaling to stop the vehicle, you might then frantically, and hopelessly, look for the phone in the firm knowledge it is now irrevocably buried somewhere in the sand, lost forever along with the pictures you hoped to later post on Instagram to make people believe that you’re cool and adventurous and not at all terrified of taking an ATV up and down sheer cliffs of sand. If you’re lucky, your boyfriend might find your slightly melted yet still functional phone in a small crevice of the engine, where it somehow just happened to land. This is all hypothetical, of course. What kind of person would leave their cell phone in an unzipped pocket while riding in an ATV across sand dunes?

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Hypothetical cell phone catastrophe aside, it was an incredibly fun (and scary) afternoon.

Along with checking two items off my bucket list, walking along the beach, and staying in an adorable cottage, we also, unsurprisingly, found the best places to eat.

Mo’s Restaurant in Florence is a satellite of the original restaurant in Newport. Famous for their clam chowder, I also ate the very yummy popcorn scallops.

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We enjoyed our lunch with an unparalleled view of the river. Great food, great company, and a great view – there’s nothing better!

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An unexpected find was Homegrown Pub. Featuring Northwest brews and dishes made from locally sourced and organic ingredients, this place was incredible.

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There was even live music the Friday evening that we were there.

We started our meal with the steamer clams – local clams steamed in a fennel, thyme, and chile cider broth.

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Brandon ordered even more mussels in the form of a cioppino and there was absolutely no way I was missing out on the special, a black truffle pasta – homemade pappardelle mixed with local mushrooms and an alfredo sauce topped with a generous serving of shaved black truffle.

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And because we had obviously not had enough to eat, we ended our meal with dessert – a homemade brownie topped with ice cream and abundant caramel.

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Another not-to-be-missed find was Boxed Lunch, a local food cart parked in front of the cinema.

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We enjoyed our picnic lunch with a view of the dunes.

I couldn't pass on the day's special, a reuben sandwich on focaccia.
I couldn’t pass on the day’s special, a reuben sandwich on focaccia.
Brandon's choice was the breakfast burrito. It received his seal of approval, which is quite impressive given that a breakfast burrito is what he eats, almost literally, every single morning.
Brandon’s choice was the breakfast burrito. It received his seal of approval, which is quite impressive given that a breakfast burrito is what he eats, almost literally, every single morning.

The food was seriously delicious.

Our fancy dinner out while in Florence was at Waterfront Depot. The restaurant is a Florence icon, and for good reason. Located in a repurposed and relocated train depot, one almost always needs reservations to get a table, even during the less busy winter months.

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It was the ideal spot for a romantic dinner.

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Most importantly, the food was excellent. After sharing the calamari, I tried the restaurant’s most popular dish, the crab encrusted halibut. There is also the crab encrusted cod. However, as my boyfriend, who might be slightly obsessive about where his seafood comes from, pointed out, it is possible to know exactly where the Alaskan halibut came from, but the term “cod” was not nearly specific enough to determine the exact kind of fish or from whence it came. Thus, I ordered the halibut to shorten his lecture and to prevent him from exhaustively questioning the waitress about the fish.

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The halibut was topped with a chili cream sauce and served with a quite excellent Caesar salad.

That evening, we forewent the many delicious desserts offered at the Waterfront Depot in favor of a fire and s’mores.

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I don’t want to name any names, but somebody gave Sydney a marshmallow.

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When Sunday morning came around, I was certainly not ready to come home, for Brandon to leave for Alaska, or to return to work the following day. We comforted ourselves over a hearty breakfast at the roadside Morgan’s Country Kitchen.

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A fluffy veggie-packed omelet and a good cup of coffee went a long way toward making me feel better.

We headed home with memories of another great weekend, this time on the Oregon coast. And, I am able to mark two more spots off of my Oregon Bucket List. My next trip will most definitely not be somewhere in Oregon – I’m taking a wintery trip to Iceland! I can’t wait to share more about my next adventure.

Packing for a Wintery Week in Iceland

For an update of how my packing list fared, check out this post from after my trip. 

I sort of like researching things. Now that I am no longer in grad school, that particular penchant often gets redirected toward researching trips and what to take with me when I go. With an upcoming trip to Iceland on the books, I had the perfect excuse to exhaustively Google search “packing for winter in Iceland” and then subsequently determine which products to pack and purchase for my trip. In case you are in need of this particular piece of information (or have another cold weather European trip planned), I wanted to share the results of my labor.

My goal is to be warm and yet be able to fit it all in a carry-on. Because I am going to Iceland, in winter no less, one of my first purchases was a new coat. I wanted to find something that would both keep me warm, but also be reasonably stylish for the fashion conscious (if uniquely so) city of Reykjavik.

DSC02738Enter the Columbia Carson Pass II Jacket. Nice and warm with Columbia’s Omni-Shield technology? Check! Stylish enough with a removable faux-fur hood and perfectly placed belt? Check! I even had the opportunity to take the coat for a couple of test runs during my recent trip to South Korea and an especially cold weekend in Bend.

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I’m happy to say the coat has been exactly what I was looking for at a reasonable (all things considered) price.

A couple of other items on my “must have for Iceland” list were a set of thermals and a reasonably good-looking pair of warm and waterproof pants. I eventually settled upon Smartwool merino wool thermals (both a top and bottom) and a pair of Columbia Fierce Force pants.

They are both the Smartwool's heaviest base layer, the MTS Mid 250. And they both kept me nice and toasty! I wore these daily. They were warm when I was outside and, because of the moisture wicking merino, did not make me sweaty when I was inside.
They are Smartwool’s heaviest base layer, the MTS Mid 250. According to reviews, these should keep me warm when outside, but not be suffocatingly warm when I’m spending time inside. Because my plans will involve days where dressing for both will be needed, these merino wool thermals seemed like the perfect purchase.
I wanted a nice, neutral color that would not scream "ski pants" when my itinerary took me from being outside to somewhere less wintery, like a museum. On my glacier hike, these pants kept me warm and dry.
I wanted a nice, neutral color that would not scream “ski pants” when my itinerary took me from being outside to somewhere a bit more sophisticated, like a museum. I will definitely be wearing these warm and waterproof pants the day I go glacier hiking!

I also want to minimize the number of shoes that I pack. Things I need include something warm, waterproof, appropriate to wear in the city and while hiking, and that will look good with various types of pants (I’ve got priorities, after all). I eventually settled upon a pair of Sorel Caribou boots.

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DSC02727So far, I am in love. They are comfortable, waterproof, and look great with jeans. Thanks to a removable lining, the warmth of the shoes can be adjusted. With the liner, the shoes are rated down to -40 degrees. Cozy! These will also come in handy as I work on my Oregon Bucket List.

I also just ordered a pair of new Crocs that were well reviewed and most certainly do not look like Crocs. Although at the moment I am slightly horrified that I just typed the preceding sentence, these seem perfect for the plane and for a day spent walking around Reykjavik. According to everything I have read, they are surprisingly warm due to a fuzzy lining and hold up great to a day of walking. Plus, these seem a little easier to slip on and off at the airport and the geothermal springs I will be visiting than do the Sorel boots.  Taken together, I will be able to wear one pair and pack one pair, which goes a long way toward fitting everything in a carry-on.

My final purchase, which I was also able to test drive in South Korea, was a new Kavu rope bag. A fortuitous compromise between by desire for fashion and my boyfriend’s commitment to function, this bag is everything. I would not necessarily take it somewhere I was concerned about pickpockets, although it could certainly be turned around if needed, but otherwise, this bag is amazing. It can be worn all day without causing my shoulder to hurt. The weight of the bag, even when fully packed, is so well-distributed that it does not feel heavy at all. I had such a great experience with this bag that I recommended it to a friend who recently had shoulder surgery. It was the first bag she found that did not hurt her shoulder. Plus, the multiple zippers help to conveniently and efficiently keep everything organized and easy to find.

DSC02737So with all of these new purchases, how do I plan to put it all together? The following (plus pjs, undies, cosmetics, and few non-valuable accessories) will be packed into my carry-on bag.

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Five shirts that can be worn in various combinations, wool socks, a couple scarves (one of which is a very warm wool scarf), waterproof pants, black pants, skinny jeans, thermals, and a tank top for layering
The boots went in first
The boots go in first
And the carefully packed e-bags, pjs, and cosmetics fit on top
And the carefully packed e-bags, pjs, and cosmetics fit on top
With a fully packed bag, you may wonder where I planned to fit the inevitable souvenirs. My solution is to pack an extra duffel bag. Depending on how much I purchase, my purse and souvenirs can both fit in the bag (which is still small enough to be considered a "personal item"), allowing me to just fly carry-on on the way home or I can check my suitcase and carry-on the extra bag and my purse.
With a fully packed bag, you may wonder where I plan to fit the inevitable souvenirs. My solution is to pack an extra duffel bag. Depending on how much I purchase, my purse and souvenirs can both fit in the bag (which is still small enough to be considered a “personal item”), allowing me to just fly carry-on on the way home or I can check my suitcase and carry-on the extra bag and my purse.

And finally, this is what I will wear on the plane.

Jeans, bulky sweater, black flats, my coat (which can double as a pillow), cute hat (tucked into my Kavu bag), gloves (tucked into the coat pockets), my bag, and last, but certainly not least, the oh-so-sexy compression socks that have completely improved the flying experience for me
Jeans, bulky sweater, black flats (which will be my new Crocs), my coat (which can double as a pillow), cute hat (tucked into my Kavu bag), gloves (tucked into the coat pockets), my bag (which is incidentally already holding my passport because I woke up in a cold sweat last week due to a nightmare about getting to Iceland without my passport – terrifying!), and last, but certainly not least, the oh-so-sexy compression socks that have completely improved the long distance flying experience for me (don’t knock it ’til you try it…)

So that’s it folks, all the things, both old and new that I intend to take with me to Iceland. Once I get back, I will update this post with how my choices hold up to the cold, wet, and often windy Iceland winter!

The Oregon Bucket List

Some days it feels like I just moved to Oregon, but in reality it has been almost 1 1/2 years. I love my new home, as I imagine is evident from the many pictures I post as I’ve explored this incredible place in which I now live. Recently, I decided to let my sometimes overly organized nature convince me that I need to create an Oregon Bucket List. With the help of my boyfriend and an extensive amount of time on the internet, I created the following list of things to do, unique or iconic lodging where I want to stay, and, of course, the best places to eat. These are the things I hope to experience while I live in Oregon. I may have gone a little crazy on the restaurant list. I have already been fortunate enough to go to some of the places on my list (related blog posts linked below) and cannot wait to experience more of the places on my list. So without further ado, the Oregon Bucket List:

To See/Do:

  1. Hike the Trail of Ten Falls Loop in Silver Falls State Park
  2. Go wine tasting in Oregon’s major wine regions: Willamette Valley, Umpqua Valley, Rogue Valley, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Snake River Valley
  3. See Crater Lake
  4. See Shakespeare in Ashland
  5. Soak in an outdoor hot spring
  6. Go to the Painted Hills and the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
  7. Raft the Rogue River
  8. Buy a book from Powell’s
  9. Visit a ghost town
  10. Go to Smith Rock State Park
  11. See Thor’s Well
  12. Hike Angel’s Rest
  13. ATV through Oregon Dunes
  14. See the Sea Lion Caves
  15. Drive the Steens Mountain Loop
  16. Explore the tide pools at Cape Perpetua
  17. Drive Highway 101
  18. See Multnomah Falls
  19. Hike Oneata Gorge
  20. Walk along Cannon Beach
  21. Visit Oregon Caves
  22. Go caving in Bend, including Lava River Cave
  23. Explore the Wallowas
  24. Drive the Columbia River Highway
  25. Hike to Toketee Falls
  26. Visit a tulip farm
  27. Go whale watching
  28. Attend the Pendelton Roundup
  29. Get tickets to the Britt Festival
  30. Go crabbing
  31. Go snowshoeing
  32. Explore the Peter Iredale wreckage
  33. Go to the Tilamook cheese factory

To Stay:

  1. Camp in a yurt
  2. Stay in a hike-in only hotel
  3. Camp at Lost Lake
  4. Sleep in a tree house
  5. Allison Inn and Spa
  6. Tu Tu’ Tun Lodge
  7. Hotel deLuxe
  8. Heathman Hotel
  9. Ashland Springs Hotel
  10. The Chateau at Oregon Caves
  11. Embassy Suites Downtown Portland
  12. Timberline Lodge
  13. Crater Lake Lodge

To Eat:

  1. Eat at Portland food carts
  2. Drink as much coffee as possible in Portland, including Stumptown
  3. Camp 18
  4. Pelican Pub and Brewery
  5. Voodoo Donut
  6. Blue Star Donut
  7. Restaurant Beck
  8. Storrs Smokehouse
  9. The Schooner Restaurant and Lounge
  10. Double Mountain Brewery
  11. New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro
  12. Salt & Straw
  13. Albatross & Co.
  14. Imperial
  15. Le Pigeon
  16. PokPok
  17. Roe
  18. Ned Ludd
  19. Huber’s Café
  20. Jake’s Famous Crawfish
  21. Pine Tavern
  22. Por Que No?
  23. Pine State Biscuits

This list is a work in progress and I would love your feedback! What am I missing?