Let’s Go Back to February

So in all of the hubbub about Iceland, which, to be sure, certainly deserves all of the love, I never got a chance to discuss Valentine’s Day and the new progress on my Oregon Bucket List.

Let me start by saying that I’m not necessarily a Valentine’s Day kind of gal. I don’t expect flowers and romance and gifts just because it is a certain day. I do sort of expect those things at other times, but because they come from the heart, not from some sort of weird pressure to win the unspoken competition that occurs on Valentine’s Day to have the “best” boyfriend, husband, partner, etc.

That being said, when your boyfriend has been out of town for three weeks because of work and he just happens to be back the weekend that it just happens to be Valentine’s Day, it is the perfect excuse for a weekend getaway.

In typical Brandon and Cora fashion, the weekend mostly centered around food. Really, really good food.

We kicked off the weekend by trying one of the restaurants on my bucket list: Ned Ludd.

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The restaurant managed to exude coziness, quirkiness, and Portland all at the same time.

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With a focus on locally sourced ingredients and homestyle craft cooking using the restaurant’s brick wood-fired oven, the experience was overwhelmingly delicious. The menu changes regularly to reflect the season.

Something with gin, honey, and lemon and something with cranberry and some type of liqour? That's all I've got. Sometimes I get too distracted by, you know, actually drinking a delicious cocktail to remember to note what's in it.
Something with gin, honey, and lemon and something with cranberry and some type of liqour? That’s all I’ve got. Sometimes I get too distracted by, you know, actually drinking a delicious cocktail to remember to note what’s in it.
This was the only thing I did not enjoy - the gougeres (you can google it yourself, just like I did subtly under the table in the restaurant) were excellent, but the pink peppercorn cream was just a little too, well, peppery.
This was the only thing I did not enjoy – the gougeres (you can google it yourself, just like I did, with my phone hid subtly under the table) were excellent, but the pink peppercorn cream (in keeping with the red and pink themed Valentine’s menu) was just a little too, well, peppery.
Homemade noodles, sautéed kale and other greens with a poached egg and parmesan. It never tastes this good when I make it at home.
Homemade noodles, sautéed kale and other greens with a poached egg and parmesan. It never tastes this good when I make it at home.
Brandon ordered polenta with roasted brussels sprouts and mushrooms. Maybe my vegetarian diet is rubbing off on him?
Brandon ordered polenta with roasted brussels sprouts and mushrooms.
And no fancy meal is complete without dessert - a warm chocolate cookie with cold milk. The cold milk comes from a specific cow. A specific cow that has a name.
And no fancy meal is complete without dessert – a warm chocolate chocolate chip cookie with cold milk. The cold milk comes from a specific cow. A specific cow that has a name. Did I mention that we were in Portland?

Ned Ludd is not my favorite restaurant in Portland (more on that in a bit), but it was an excellent meal in a restaurant committed to every aspect of the food that they serve.

You can’t spend a weekend in Portland without doing brunch. It’s just what you do in Portland. After deciding we didn’t want to wait for two hours to get a table at Tasty n Alder, we found ourselves at Cheryl’s on 12th, which had a much more reasonable wait.

Not only was there a shorter wait, there were also complimentary beignet like things, warm out of the oven and coated in sugar. I think we made a good choice.
Not only was there a shorter wait, there were also complimentary beignet like things, warm out of the oven and coated in sugar. I think we made a good choice.
I do not apologize for the gratuitous picture of handsome brunch date
I do not apologize for the gratuitous picture of my handsome brunch date
It's not brunch without coffee. And mimosas. And more coffee.
It’s not brunch without coffee. And mimosas. And more coffee.
Eggs Sardou made with creamed spinach and artichokes
Eggs Sardou made with creamed spinach and artichokes

And the delicious food did not stop there. Saturday evening, we ate at our favorite Portland restaurant, where we had first eaten back in October. Lechon is just plain amazing. Serving food inspired by South American cuisine, Lechon simply gets it right.

This is the Mediterraneo - a drink inspired by the classic Peruvian cocktail - the pisco sour
This is the Mediterraneo – a drink similar to the classic Peruvian cocktail, the pisco sour

On this particular evening, we decided to order the special Valentine’s tasting menu. Every single bite was amazing. And by that I mean I want to eat it all again. Right now.

Salad with goat cheese, toasted nuts, cranberries, and a champagne vinaigrette
A salad with creamed goat cheese, toasted pine nuts, cranberries, and a champagne vinaigrette
This is what food should always taste like - burrata on toast with roasted salsa
This is what food should always taste like – burrata on toast with charred salsa
Lobster beignets
Lobster beignets
This truffle risotto was so incredible that my amazing boyfriend has learned to replicate it at home. Because everyone needs truffle risotto in their life on a regular basis.
This truffle risotto was so incredible that my amazing boyfriend has learned to replicate it at home. Because everyone needs truffle risotto in their life on a regular basis.
After all of that, we finally got to the main course - swordfish with chimichurri, crab cakes, and beef stuffed with all kinds of yummy things like olives and peppers
After all of that, we finally got to the main course – swordfish with chimichurri, crab cakes, and beef stuffed with all kinds of yummy things like olives and peppers
And, because we had not eaten enough already, we each got our own (as in no sharing) molten lava cakes for dessert.
And, because we had not eaten enough already, we each got our own (as in no sharing) molten lava cake for dessert.

Okay, so we obviously ate a lot of really good food. But we actually did other stuff, too. A walking tour is the perfect after dinner activity to burn off at least some of the calories consumed. I had taken a tour with Portland Walking Tours a couple years ago and really enjoyed it. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to try one of their other tours. After looking into my options, I settled on the Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour, which offered a combination of history for me and the potential for scariness for Brandon. With a 10 pm start time, there was plenty of time for a late dinner before meeting for the tour at the former Merchant Hotel, which is rumored to be haunted (said in my most mysterious and scary movie voiceover voice).

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Haunted or not, it was creepy. Especially the creepy, creepy basement that was part of the infamous Portland tunnels underneath the city.

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Our guide was fantastic – funny and informative!

What I like about this type of tour is that you get a side of history that you don’t normally hear. Even if ghosts aren’t your thing (and it’s not really mine), we got to learn about the darker side of Portland history – essentially legalized forced prostitution and the horrors associated with it, a period of time when anyone could be kidnapped and forced to be a sailor, floods and murder and mayhem.

We got to use EMF detectors during the tour. I will say, it was a little unnerving when it lit up. Especially in the creepy, creepy basement.
We got to use EMF detectors during the tour. I will say, it was a little unnerving when it lit up. Especially in the creepy, creepy basement.

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Another gratuitous boyfriend picture. Because that smile.
Another gratuitous boyfriend picture. Because that smile.

Toward the end of the tour, our guide surprised us with a stop by Voodoo Doughnut (also on my bucket list, although I had previously been there).

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Best of all, we got to surpass the hour-long line.

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So much for burning those calories…

The other fun thing we did was OMSI After Dark. This adults only event is a (usually) once a month event when the museum stays open late. There are themed events, vendors, and exhibits with a different focus each month.

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Appropriately, the theme this night was related to love and relationships. I thought the concept was great – extra museum hours and the opportunity to spend those extra hours perusing exhibits, glass of wine in hand. However, the execution was somewhat lacking. It was just so darn crowded. Every single thing had a line to the point I felt like we spent the whole evening waiting in line. I would have gladly paid more for the tickets (I think they were $20 apiece) if it meant that entry to OMSI After Dark was capped after a certain number of people.

If I had to wait in line, at least I got to do it with this guy.
If I had to wait in line, at least I got to do it with this guy.
Sexy
I think it’s a good look

Valentine’s or not, I would eat delicious food and explore scary places (like creepy, creepy basements and crowded museums) with Brandon anytime.

A Wintery Week in Iceland: The Northern Lights

So after all of the posts and pictures of my fabulous trip to Iceland, the ultimate question remains: Did I see the Northern Lights? That is, after all, why I decided to brave the Icelandic winter and travel there in February.

And the answer is…

…weeeell, sort of.

Anti-climactic, I know.

During my overnight flight from Seattle to Reykjavik, during which I got a grand total of an hour of sleep, I spent some of my moments of wakefulness resting my head against the side of the airplane, looking out of my window into the inky black sky. Sometime around 2 am, I saw the faintest, most whispy of Northern Lights from the plane. They were faint enough that my eyes could not consistently capture their presence. And, although I was able to get a couple of pictures, even then the lights were ephemeral and transient, difficult to photograph. But see them I did, in the quiet moments of the early morning, in a plane full of sleeping people. For a few moments, I felt like they were all my own, the magical Northern Lights putting on a show just for me as I raced across a silent and dark planet.

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And that was it. The rest of the week, as each night approached, the clouds gathered, obscuring any opportunity to see the lights. Each day was tinged with a hint of disappointment as each night I lost another opportunity to see the lights. In that disappointment, I was reminded that travel is not always predictable and that there are certainly no guarantees. In fact, there are almost always things that go wrong, disappointments, and hard days. But that is also the beauty of it. Travel makes you choose: choose to see the beauty in the less-than-beautiful places, choose to enjoy the amazing parts of a day rather than dwelling on the things that do not happen (I’m talking about you, Northern Lights), choose joy in what you do rather than regret in what you do not. Travel, like life, is about the choices you make, especially when things get hard.

I say that to make the point that, despite not seeing the lights, I had a fantastic time. Of course, as I pondered this on the plane ride back, little did I know that my sense of peace in the face of challenges would be put to the test.

This has nothing to do with the Northern Lights, but it makes an amusing end to my stories of Iceland. Once back in Seattle, I had a 6 hour layover before my last flight home to Medford, where my boyfriend planned to pick me up at midnight. After burning time, it was finally 10 pm, time to board my plane and the announcement is made: my flight has been cancelled. Mind you, by this point I had been awake for over 24 hours, spent the day in two different countries, flown across several time zones, and eaten airport food for what seemed like days. I was not in an ideal emotional state. Apparently no flights were landing in or taking off from Medford.

As I waited in the line to rebook my flight while alternately calling my boyfriend and the airline, I felt like the best I could do was try to have a conversation without crying. This was complicated by the fact that I could not reach the person who was supposed to be picking me up from the airport. Despite my somewhat frantic calls and texts, my boyfriend, who, at that particular moment, I had to remind myself is actually a person whom I love, was apparently sleeping and unable to have a conversation about what I should do. You know, since he was the one picking me up from the airport and all. When I got to the ticket counter, I learned I had been rebooked on a flight. Tomorrow at 5 pm, almost 24 hours later. To put this in context, I could rent a car and drive home in about 6 hours. Option 1: Cancel my flight, rent a car and drive home (technically option 1 was the aforementioned flight, but as I said, not actually an option). Option 2: Catch a flight to Portland leaving in approximately 20 minutes (which my bag that I had checked on the way back due to liquid souvenirs a.k.a alcohol would not make), sleep in the airport (yuck!), then catch an early morning flight to Medford (which I later learned was also cancelled – I would’ve been stuck in Portland). Option 3: Catch a flight to Eugene in about an hour. Now Eugene is obviously not where I planned to be. Or where my boyfriend was planning to pick me up. But it is closer to home (honestly slightly closer than Medford) than either Seattle or Portland. So in my jet-lagged, exhausted, unable-to-talk-to-anyone-about-this-decision state, I chose option 3. Not necessarily the most logical choice, but the one that in the shortest amount of time got me the closest to home. I left a final voicemail detailing when and where I would be landing, confident that by the time I landed he would have some suggestion about how to get me home from Eugene.

The following text conversation occurred upon my landing:

Me: I’m here. In Eugene. Not sure what I’m going to do – I’ve thought about just taking a taxi to a nearby hotel, getting some sleep, and figuring out in the morning.

Boyfriend: Liar

Me: What??? (As I took deep, calming breaths to calm the quickly rising rage I was suddenly experiencing)

Boyfriend: You can’t trick a trickster.

Me: (emotional silence)

HE THOUGHT I WAS JOKING.

By some stretch of the imagination, he thought I was playing an elaborate prank on him, preying upon how much he had missed me the previous week.

I quickly disabused him of this notion with a mildly hysterical phone call, during which I outlined that I was, in fact, actually walking across the tarmac of the EUGENE AIRPORT while he was waiting for me at the (strangely silent, he realized) Medford Airport. Which was approximately 3 hours away. Did I mention it was midnight and that I had been awake for a really long time?

I just wanted to get home. So I decided to take a taxi. I had thought (hoped?) that my missed airport shuttle fiasco in Minnesota would be my most expensive taxi ride ever. I was wrong. At $250, this now became my most expensive taxi ride ever. Not really a record I want to break. But, I finally made it home around 2:30 in the morning with all of my belongings and my physical and emotional health generally intact. Plus, Brandon made up for the, um, misunderstanding, by picking up my dog so I could sleep in the next morning.

Perhaps my trip did not end in the best or most fun way. Travel is not always easy and certainly does not always go as planned. And yet, I love it. Less than a week after getting back, I was already planning my next trip (to Hawaii, for my birthday!!). Even when it is hard and exhausting and comically terrible, travel is worth it.