There are a lot of things I love about traveling. One of my favorite things is the food, something that was readily apparent from the number of food centric activities that we enjoyed during a single day in Seattle. I love trying new foods, exploring the culinary culture that is unique to a place. For Brandon’s 30th birthday trip, this meant eating some form of seafood pretty much every day. I was totally okay with that. This trip we ate at a mix of favorite spots and places recommended by others. Not a single meal, not a single bite of a single meal, disappointed. The following are some places you should definitely check out if you find yourself on Bainbridge Island or in Portland.
Harbour Public Housewas our first true vacation meal. Within walking distance of our VRBO, we had a nice stroll through downtown Winslow and along the water to the pub, which serves what I would best describe as gourmet pub food. Although with dishes like fried calamari and seafood and mussel curry, calling it pub food is a bit of an understatement.
Mora Iced Creameryis a “can’t miss” stop, even when it’s 40 degrees outside. With flavors ranging from the familiar to the more creative, there is certain to be something for any taste. And if you just can’t make up your mind, sample to your heart’s content until you find that perfect flavor, or combination of flavors. Or, hypothetically, if two of you want to order the same flavor, you can keep trying the various options until someone gives in and decides that the other person can have the chocolate peanut butter. Because you can’t order the same thing. Obviously.
J’aime Les Crepes is a small creperie that was recommended by a friend. With options from sweet to savory, the authentic French crepes made for a delicious and not-too-heavy breakfast. The thin, subtly sweet crepe was the perfect counterpart for veggies, cheese, and a hint of pesto sauce.
Manor Houseis the on site restaurant at the Inn at Pleasant Beach. It was the ideal spot for Brandon’s birthday dinner and probably the biggest splurge of the trip. The setting was intimate and romantic, just where I wanted to be on a cool, rainy night.
After perusing the menu, we started with cocktails and the out of this world manila clams. Despite the fact that we were in a super fancy restaurant, I was sorely tempted to lick the bowl clean.
We each went with the 3-course Chef’s Tasting Menu with wine pairings. The tasting menu had multiple options for each course, so we had a selection of dishes to share. Although really I think I could have eaten more of the clams and been perfectly content.
Our last food stop before leaving Bainbridge Island was Doc’s Marina Grill. Because we needed to get one more seafood fix before leaving the island.
Back in Portland, we had a second birthday dinner at our favorite, favorite spot, Le Chon. I have written about this restaurant before because it is, after all, our favorite. But I really can’t get enough of this place. And one birthday dinner really isn’t enough.
On the last morning of our trip, we managed to check another spot off my Oregon bucket list while eating delicious donuts at Blue Star. These are considered by many to be the best donuts in Portland. Blue Star utilizes a brioche dough that takes almost 20 hours to make, which is done with only the best ingredients. And then they top the donuts with creative and delicious flavor combinations, like blueberry bourbon basil and orange olive oil. These are donuts gone upscale.
And with that, our days of eating dessert for breakfast and clams every other meal were sadly over. At least for this trip! I loved planning Brandon’s 30th Birthday Break. Even more, I loved getting to spend a week celebrating a new decade of his life. I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Brandon turned 30 and it was a thing that needed to be celebrated, celebrated with all the fun things and adventures that could possibly fit into a single week. And so I planned and obsessed and refined and expanded. The end result was an incredible week in Washington.
I previously shared the places we stayed, but that was only the beginning, the background against which all the other pieces could fall into place. And oh what pieces they were.
To begin, skydiving. You may remember that the details of this trip were a complete surprise to Brandon, who discovered what was next as we went along. That was how we found ourselves having this conversation over a lovely breakfast on a rainy Sunday morning in Olympia:
Me: So you’re probably wondering what we are doing in Olympia.
B: Well, yeah. I can’t remember ever mentioning a desire to come to Olympia.
Me: It’s more about the proximity to what we are doing today than actually being in Olympia. You remember that time you said you wanted to go skydiving? (picture a slightly maniacal smile slowly forming on my face)
B: (worried silence)
Me: Yeah, I think it was when we were in Hawaii or something. You said you really wanted to go skydiving. So you’re going skydiving today. I have reservations for you this morning.
B: You keep saying “you’re going skydiving.” Don’t you mean “we’re going skydiving.”
Me: (worried silence)
B: I’m not going to go skydiving by myself! I only want to go if you go with me. If we die, we die together!
Me: Ummm…. I hadn’t really planned on joining you. I mean, the cost is so much more for two people.
After several minutes of somewhat tense negotiation, it was determined that if, in fact, Brandon was going skydiving today, so was I. As we discussed the impending “fun” we would be having, we halfheartedly bemoaned the weather and “worried” that perhaps the rainy day would prevent us from jumping.
As we both kept pretending that we actually really wanted to skydive, we made our way toward Skydive Kapowsin. I think we were both secretly relieved when the worsening weather meant that it was not a good day to jump out of an airplane.
Hiding our relief, we began forming a Plan B. Fortunately, it just happened to be the weekend for Bainbridge Island’s Wine on the Rock. The weekend event is a coordinated effort among the handful of wineries on the island featuring tastings and charcuterie at each stop. We bought our tickets at the first vineyard we visited, Eleven Winery.
After enjoying the wine and live music offered there, we took our souvenir wine glasses and the handy event map and began making our way down the island, stopping at several vineyards and wineries along the way.
Not only were the wine and food fantastic, we got to learn about the unique wine industry and culture of the island, which is shaped by the rainy and cool weather (read: we drank lots of white wine).
Our favorite was a perfectly tart raspberry dessert wine we purchased at Perennial Vintners. In fact, as I type this, we are planning to open it up tonight to serve along side creme brûlée (I am weirdly excited about breaking in the kitchen mini torch) to celebrate Brandon’s hard work refinishing the original hardwood floors in my house. Seems like a worthy event for the wine! We did not quite make it to all the vineyards, one of us had to drive after all, but it was the perfect way to spend our first day of vacation. And I think we both enjoyed it more than we would have enjoyed skydiving.
Good thing Sunday was such a relaxing day. Because the following day was anything but, in the best way possible. Monday was Seattle day. With our VRBO chosen partly for location, we were able to get an early start that day with a brisk walk to the ferry. We spent the day exploring Seattle by foot, as evidenced by the new record I would set for steps according to my FitBit.
We began our day in Pike Place Market, stopping by some of my favorite spots.
Which pretty much means we spent the morning eating food. Lots of food.
After thoroughly enjoying the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of the market, we made our way toward the Pacific Science Center.
Unfortunately we did not have time to see the entire museum, but Brandon was especially interested in the special Sherlock Holmes Exhibit. The exhibit provided a history of the Sherlock Holmes series, including some of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original manuscripts. There was information on the science of crime solving during this point in history and on the fascination with crime present culturally that provided a background for the novels.
The central part of the exhibit was the opportunity to solve your own crime using the tools of the time. Although probably not targeted entirely toward adults, we both had fun following the clues and solving the mystery.
From there, we made our way to Orfeo, the meeting place for our Savor Seattle Gourmet Seattle Tour. This would be my third tour with Savor Seattle and like the previous two, it did not disappoint.
But first, we had to stop for cupcakes. We arrived just a bit early for the tour, so when we asked about somewhere nearby to grab a quick drink, our guide recommend Yellow Leaf Cupcakes. Because if you’re going to drink water, you might as well have a pancakes and bacon cupcake to go with it.
Back at Orfeo, our tour began. The focus of the Gourmet Tour is the food culture of Seattle – the focus on fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and sustainable foods. At each stop of the tour, we got to sample varying ways that Seattle restaurants live out these goals with a selection of small plates and Washington wine pairings. And it was delicious!
Following the tour, we were somehow hungry for dinner. We returned to Brandon’s favorite stop from the tour, Von’s, for more of that sourdough pasta. And more drinks. When it’s your birthday trip, you get to do what you want.
For further proof, here is a video, yes a video, of the coolest drink ever: video_31093318625
Our last major stop of the day was the Space Needle. Finally ready for a break from all of the eating, the Seattle icon was the perfect spot to finally put our feet up for a bit. With an unbeatable view of the city, we suddenly became the obnoxious couple kissing at a landmark. I know, I know, but there was Brandon and the romance of the city lights and the relaxed satisfaction of a day spent enjoying delicious food and drinks. I couldn’t not make out with him.
After that, we slowly made our way back to the ferry. We stopped at a bar or brewery here or there as caught our fancy. By the time we made it back to the ferry, it was late and we were exhausted. Which probably explains (some of) the following pictures.
It was one of my favorite days ever.
Tuesday was Brandon’s birthday. We used his birthday as an excuse to be lazy. To relax. To enjoy the hot tub to soothe our aching feet. We checked into the Inn at Pleasant Beach and simply enjoyed the beauty of the day and each other’s company. I know taking a day to relax can seem like a waste while on vacation, but I’ve learned that a day like this makes the rest of the trip so much better. We ended the day with an unparalleled birthday dinner at Manor House (more on that to come).
Wednesday was sadly our last day on Bainbridge Island.
We made the most of our last morning before heading toward Portland. While our time in Washington may have been about new experiences, we used our time in Portland to revisit some of our favorites. Dinner at Le Chon is always a highlight. And one of Brandon’s favorite spots is Ground Kontrol – arcade by day and arcade and bar by night. He usually beats me at everything. Except Tetris, I dominate at Tetris. And a late night in Portland is not quite complete without a stop by Voodoo Donut. Because it was a weeknight, there was hardly a line at all!
And then came Thursday. The last day is always the hardest, especially when the days ends with your love flying away for work. But we made the most of it. After breakfast, we spent a leisurely morning at the Japanese Gardens, lovely despite the ongoing construction.
Our last stop of the day and the vacation was McMenamin’s Grand Lodge in Forest Grove. We booked massages for the afternoon at Ruby’s Spa and spent the time before and after in the warm soaking pool. It was the perfect end to a perfect week together.
But I’m not done, yet. I have more to share about food and the places you should definitely eat should you find yourself in Bainbridge or Portland. Because I have not already talked enough about food.
I would normally have more to share than a handful of restaurants after visiting a new place. Alas, because I was in North Carolina for a conference, I actually had to work. I spent most of my days in hotel conference rooms, soaking in the interesting and informative lectures. In between learning, I did manage to fit in a few delicious meals.
Of course, the plan was to spend the partial day I had before the conference exploring a bit. That plan was rather disrupted when housekeeping knocked on my door that morning. Somewhat baffled by housekeeping bothering me quite so early in the morning, I looked at the clock. Only to realize that it was after 11 pm. Jet lag, man. So, not quite so much time to explore, but, with my first trip to NC, I did get to enjoy legit fried chicken, actual sweet tea, and still-warm-from-the-oven cornbread (oh how I miss Southern food). I visited a charming French bakery, chowed down on wood-fired pizza, and met up with college friends for dinner. Although I spent most of my time either at the conference or eating, I did also find time to stop in at a fantastic and accessible museum.
Without further ado, here is my quick overview of places (okay, mostly restaurants) to visit if you find yourself in Charlotte, NC. I am so glad to have friends who make such great recommendations!
Mert’s Heart and Soul: When I think of things I miss about the South, home cooked Southern food is high on the list. In fact, it is probably right behind friends and family on the list and well above the weather. Which might not be on the list at all, as a matter of fact. Being in NC, I knew I would not be getting quite the home cooked experience, but Mert’s came pretty darn close. My co-workers and I headed there upon a recommendation from my friends in NC and I do not think anyone regretted the choice. I went all out, choosing fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and okra and tomatoes. With sweet tea of course. And the cornbread. Oh the cornbread. I could write poems about the cornbread. This is definitely a place to check out while in Charlotte.
Amelie’s: Another recommendation from a friend, this seemed like the perfect spot for lunch after waking up a little later than intended that morning. From the moment one walks in the door, it is hard to not be completely charmed by this spacious and unique bakery. And the food was perhaps even more impressive than the decor. My choice (not an easy one, to be sure) was the chicken salad sandwich and a side of truffle potato salad. You had me at truffle. Oh, and an iced coffee. Did I mention I was rather jet lagged? And you know I saved room for dessert. That was an even more difficult choice. Thankfully, many of the desserts came in a mini-size. The sole purpose of a mini-dessert’s existence is so that you can eat more of them without feeling guilty.
Tupelo Honey: The fact that this is a chain restaurant did not make it any less delightful. Of course, that could have been the company, as well. One night while in NC, I had the privilege to meet up with two of my friends from college, who I had not seen since, well, college pretty much. I love that I have friends all over the US and the world. And that sometimes even when I am far away from home, I get the chance to see them. As I sat on the restaurant’s balcony, happily eating fried green tomatoes and “burnt” okra while enjoying the cool of the evening, I was so thankful to be spending an evening catching up with old friends.
Mama Ricotta’s: Although I could happily have eaten ALL the Southern food, this Italian restaurant was a nice change of pace for my last evening in NC. Fair warning if you decide to enjoy a meal here, this place was packed! Thankfully, my co-worker/friend and I got there in time for an early dinner. By the time we left there was a line out the door. And it was easy to see why. The food was fresh and authentic. With plenty of garlic. I don’t think there are many better food combos in the world than pizza, salad, and wine. There is, of course, turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce, but that is for another time.
Levine Museum of the New South: Obviously, this is not a restaurant. Other than seeing what was to be seen walking around downtown Charlotte, this was the other non-food stop I experienced during my time in NC. I was, after all, there to actually attend a conference. Despite being non-conference related, I did learn as I perused the museum. The Levine Museum focuses on the history of the South, especially in and around NC, since the end of the Civil War. The main exhibit is interactive and engaging, even for an adult. It was well worth the time spent and the $8 entrance fee. I would recommend this as a stop to anyone visiting Charlotte.
Of course, there was more I would have liked to do while in Charlotte. But, I feel like I made the most of my time. And I got to attend a wonderful conference. I will not bore you with the details of that. Just trust me on the food.
First, let’s state the obvious: luaus in Hawaii are expensive. However, Brandon and I knew that this was one area where we wanted to “splurge” during my birthday trip to Maui. Because we knew that this would be one of the major expenses of the trip, I wanted to make sure to find the absolutely best luau experience. In researching the options, The Old Lahaina Luau was one that was consistently mentioned as the best, most authentic luau on Maui. However, I also learned that the same company who produces Old Lahaina also produces a more upscale luau, The Feast at Lele. At $125 per person, The Feast was a bit more expensive than Old Lahaina, but after comparing the two, we decided that The Feast was perfect for us. It was worth every penny!
First, the location. Located in Lahaina, it was within walking distance of our hotel. Which meant a lovely pre-dinner walk through town and not having to worry about finding a taxi after the luau. Given how easy it is to lose count of the mai tais and lava flows, being able to easily walk back to the hotel was perfect.
Second, the vibe. From the moment we arrived and were greeted with leis and mai tais, we relaxed and enjoyed every minute. Located on the beach, the sunset provided the perfect backdrop for the early part of the evening. Plus, rather than the typical buffet and group tables at luaus, we had a private table where we were served dinner.
Third, the service. Incredibly attentive, we felt pampered from the moment we sat down. From ensuring timely delivery of the (many) food courses to making sure our drinks never ran out, the wait staff was fantastic and friendly.
Fourth, the performance. One thing I especially loved about this particular luau was the approach they took to the dances. Each course was accompanied by a dance corresponding with that particular place of Polynesian heritage. So not only did we get to see traditional Hawaiian dances, we also saw dances from Samoa, Tahiti, and Aotearoa (New Zealand). The closing act was Samoan fire dancing. It was absolutely wonderful and perfectly executed.
And last, but not least, the food. This is probably what ultimately swayed the decision to attend The Feast at Lele over another luau. The dinner consisted of 4 courses plus dessert, each inspired by the traditional foods of the various Pacific islands. For instance, we enjoyed Hawaiian pork while watching Hawaiian hula dancing. I will say, this is not the ideal place for a picky eater. Personally, we thought the food was delicious and I loved getting to try all kinds of new foods. However, it could get a bit adventurous at times. Oh, and drinks were unlimited. In addition to the typical tropical drinks one would expect, there was a suggested wine or beer pairing for each course.
And because there had obviously not been enough food, dessert:
We loved The Feast at Lele. We still talk about it as one of the favorite things we did while in Hawaii and something we would certainly splurge on again. The entire evening was lovely, delicious, and oh-so-fun. If you are looking for a unique luau that is a more sophisticated and gourmet experience than others you might find, I cannot recommend The Feast at Lele enough!
What could be more relaxing than a day at the beach? Toes in the sand, the warmth of the sun, the gentle sound of the ocean waves. Sounds like paradise. Of course, the postcards with a beautiful shot of the beach (see the picture above as an example) do not exactly show that “paradise” also means gritty sand in your swimsuit, usually a sunburn, and lest you forget, potentially painful encounters with sea life.
Of course, when Brandon and I decided to spend a day relaxing at the beach, we fully expected the paradise version. One of the benefits of our lovely bed and breakfast in Lahaina was the ability to access many of the guest benefits at their sister property, The Kaanapali Beach Hotel. This hotel, located in the resort area along the gorgeous Kaanapali Beach, has fantastic amenities and for us it was the perfect compromise – we got to stay at a quiet and beautiful B & B in Lahaina and still enjoy the benefits offered by a larger resort. Although we had to pay for parking in the hotel garage, the garage provided convenient access to the beach and we could use the parking receipt to get complimentary drinks at the pool bar for 2 hours after we initially entered the garage.
But rather than take time to stop for drinks, we headed straight for the beach.
We settled into a shady spot and began our day of vacation bliss.
Then we decided that simply relaxing on the beach was for losers. Brandon went snorkeling and we took a dip in the ocean.
And then my arm started to hurt.
A red welt developed and there were (increasingly insistent) shooting pains up my arm and into my shoulder.
Apparently I had been stung by a jellyfish.
So we went in search of solutions. Various suggestions for managing a jellyfish sting that we encountered along the way included “pee on it,” “take Benadryl,” and “get really drunk.” We mulled the options over lunch and lava flows at Leilani’s on the Beach.
Although the coconut shrimp and fish tacos were delicious and temporarily distracting, I became increasingly paranoid. The pain was legit, y’all. Typically not one to overreact to health concerns (seriously, I will probably die because I dismiss a heart attack as a panic attack, NBD) I was suddenly a hypochondriac convinced I was going to have permanent nerve damage and/or die.
In an attempt to both humor me and assuage my fears, Brandon forced me to speak to someone at the resort. I was overwhelmed by the response. They were immediately responsive and got me into contact with the on site doctor. He reassured me that I would not, in fact, die. He also shared with me the actual treatment for a jellyfish sting: run it under water that is as hot as you can stand for 5-10 minutes. It disperses the venom thereby reducing the pain. He also provided me with a topical pain reliever if I needed it. They even called The Plantation Inn, where one of the staff members checked on me later just to make sure I was okay. Really impressive service.
Trusting the expert, I spent several minutes in a hotel bathroom running my arm under hot water. I only got a few weird looks. But let me tell you, it worked! Without any additional pain relief, the pain was significantly reduced and the swelling slowly diminished.
The moral of the story? The beach is more than just beautiful and if you happen to get stung by a jellyfish, hot water is the solution. Although you should probably drink a lava flow just to be safe.
I could imagine it: a morning spent relaxing on a sailboat as it gently moved through the waves resulting in perfectly windblown hair; being surrounded by colorful and bounteous fish while snorkeling in the cool and salty water made perfect by the sun shining down and warming my back; sitting next to Brandon while sipping mai tais and resting my head on his shoulder as we watched the waves. It sounded perfect. Usually when I travel, I like to enjoy a splurge or two. For my birthday trip to Maui, we decided that one of those splurges would be a sailing and snorkeling trip. After extensively researching the options, because that’s what I do for fun, we decided that Trilogy was the way to go. After another stop at Maui Coffee Roasters before leaving Kahului, we made our way south to Ma’alaea Harbor.
Things to Know:
You will not wear shoes (they get dropped off at the dock at check-in) and you will wear sunscreen. Lots and lots of sunscreen. But not the spray kind because that makes the deck slippery. And you should definitely reapply. Did I mention that you should reapply sunscreen? Because you will get sunburned.
The company provides all of the necessary snorkel gear. I was especially excited to learn that they even have prescription masks available. Because otherwise I totally couldn’t see, which is kind of the point of snorkeling. They also have wetsuit tops available to help with the whole sunburn thing. The pain is real, y’all.
The Trilogy tour to Molokini Crater is $129 per adult. The tour involves two stops for snorkeling. One at Molokini and then a second stop in a spot where sea turtles are often spotted. Of course all of this is dependent on the weather and can vary slightly .
Things I Liked (aka why I chose this company):
The crew and the opportunity to actually sail. The crew was enthusiastic and went out of their way to make the day fun. And this trip is not just about the snorkeling. One of the unique things about Trilogy is that they use true sailboats. Although the tour motors to the snorkeling sights, the day ends with the opportunity to sail. The crew even lets you help out if you want.
The smaller size of the tour. We might have been running a bit late thanks to the coffee stop, so I rushed ahead to check-in while Brandon found a place to park and paid (Side note: there were spots muuuuuch closer and far less muddy than the one we ended up in. If you’re leaving from the far pier, keep driving around – there should be plenty of spots on the pier). On his trek he noticed another boat, from a company which shall remain unnamed. At first, he was horrified to think that said boat was ours – overloaded with tourists with inadequate space for everyone, it did not look like a good time. Thankfully, he was much happier when he finally arrived at the Trilogy boat. There was enough space for everyone to have a place to sit and there were trampolines at the front you could hang out on. The crew to passenger ratio was great.
The food. If you have read my blog, like, once, you know that food is high on the list of my priorities. So there is at least a chance that, despite what I said above, I chose this particular trip based primarily upon the reviews mentioning the delicious food. Maybe.
It was a really fun day that was worth every penny. The sailing was fun, the food was yummy, and the snorkeling was great. You know you’ve had a good day when at the end of the day your hair looks like this:
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.
The restaurant managed to exude coziness, quirkiness, and Portland all at the same time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Haunted or not, it was creepy. Especially the creepy, creepy basement that was part of the infamous Portland tunnels underneath the city.
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.
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).
Best of all, we got to surpass the hour-long line.
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.
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.
Valentine’s or not, I would eat delicious food and explore scary places (like creepy, creepy basements and crowded museums) with Brandon anytime.
Now let’s get to my favorite part of pretty much, well, everything. The food. The mostly delicious, very seafoody food of Iceland.
I was not sure what to expect when it came to Icelandic food, although I did a bit of research beforehand into Reykjavik restaurants. I wanted to treat myself to a nice dinner out my first evening in Reykjavik. Because that’s what I do. There’s nothing quite like sitting in a fancy restaurant eating expensive food. Alone. I eventually settled upon Fiskfelagid, Fish Company.
I was intrigued by the “Nordic fusion” menu, with recipes featuring global flavors made with Icelandic ingredients. The restaurant was cozy after a cold walk from my hotel, despite the sunshine still pouring through the windows.
I began with an amuse bouche of Arctic char (very similar to salmon) and a hearty bread with citrus and dill butters.
I followed this with the coconut fish soup – flavors of Fiji made with langoustine and monkfish.
It was warm, tasty, yumminess. Seriously, I could have eaten just that and been perfectly content.
It was almost impossible to choose a main course, but I eventually settled on the flavors of Ireland – Arctic char served with a flavorful and colorful combination of pan-fried Icelandic lobster, scallops, apple chips, and melon balls, topped with dill vinaigrette (dill must grow like a weed in Iceland – it was in and on everything) and beer foam.
I enjoyed every single bite. So much so that I couldn’t even order dessert I was so pleasantly full. That is like a once in a lifetime event.
Of course, it is not like I had gone the whole day without eating. My first meal in Reykjavik had been the previously discussed Bakari Sandholt for an early, post-flight breakfast.
And no trip to Reykjavik is complete without a stop at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur for what is perhaps the world’s most famous hot dog. I recommend ordering a hot dog, with the unique flavor derived from the addition of lamb, the classic way: ein med ollu (one with everything) – ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onion, raw onion, and remoulade made with sweet relish.
But the good eatin’ didn’t end in Reykjavik. Throughout my trip, I got to enjoy the best that Iceland had to offer. Delicious seafood, lamb, and skyr. One of my favorite stops of the trip was a cheese shop. Burid specializes in otherwise hard-to-find cheeses from around the world and all of the various things that can be served alongside.
And upstairs there is a cheese school. The owner of the shop is passionate not only about cheese, but about the food history of Iceland. And she was hilarious.
While we nibbled on cheese deliciously paired with Icelandic bread, fruit, vegetables, and even smoked lamb, we learned about the mostly gross and unvaried diet of Icelanders throughout much of the country’s history.
There were simply no resources. And there was lots of winter. Which meant almost nothing could grow and anything that could grow or be killed had to be somehow preserved. Skyr, actually a cheese rather than a yogurt, was, and is, a staple of the diet. Served at any/every meal, usually with something sour or pickled (see the above mentioned lack of resources and winter), it is a surprisingly flexible product.
Although Icelandic food may have been, well, less than delicious for centuries, thankfully there have been improvements. Like global commerce and modern technology that has allowed geothermal power to fuel greenhouses that grow actual produce.
One of my favorite meals was a langoustine feast. Caught near the restaurant, the sweet shellfish are not exported – they are only available in this small seaside town.
There was so. much. seafood. I ate seafood at least once a day – a fish soup, a salmon appetizer, a feast of crab and clams and prawns, a salmon and egg sandwich. It was all so good.
When I was not eating seafood I was eating skyr. With breakfast, in a smoothie, just because.
And then there’s Icelandic lamb, supposedly some of the best in the world. My last night in Iceland I had the opportunity to enjoy some served, as it often is, with potatoes and a béchamel sauce. Yum!
Of course, the less palatable (at least to non-Icelanders) traditional foods are still available. Things like horse, fish flakes, and hakarl, which is fermented shark. Oh, and they eat puffins. Keeping up my tradition of eating gross things and taking pictures, I documented, with the help of one of my new friends, me trying harkarl. You are welcome.
There were so many new and wonderful and, yes, not so wonderful, foods to try in Iceland. I didn’t even get to try Icelandic pancakes (ponnukokur) or black licorice (although I did bring chocolate covered licorice back for my office – it was a rather divisive choice of candy either staunchly hated or thoroughly enjoyed; I told them it could be worse) or birch beer. Food is one of my favorite ways to explore a new place and Iceland most certainly did not disappoint.
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.
At $70 a night, the price was right, too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After 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.
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.
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?
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.
We enjoyed our lunch with an unparalleled view of the river. Great food, great company, and a great view – there’s nothing better!
An unexpected find was Homegrown Pub. Featuring Northwest brews and dishes made from locally sourced and organic ingredients, this place was incredible.
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.
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.
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.
Another not-to-be-missed find was Boxed Lunch, a local food cart parked in front of the cinema.
We enjoyed our picnic lunch with a view of the dunes.
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.
It was the ideal spot for a romantic dinner.
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.
That evening, we forewent the many delicious desserts offered at the Waterfront Depot in favor of a fire and s’mores.
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.
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.
Add in a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your perspective) dose of delicious food. And then add some more just for good measure.
Stir in a museum (because I’m a nerd and my boyfriend is awesome)
Fold in some adventure
Sprinkle in sparkly snow. Because sparkles.
Add a few relaxing hours at a spa
And don’t forget the most important ingredient of all – someone amazing with whom to enjoy the food and the fun and the adventure. And to kiss. A lot.
Bake it all for about three days and enjoy the perfect weekend getaway.
Brandon and I decided to celebrate the beginning of 2016 in the way I pretty much want to celebrate everything – by traveling. This time, I got to explore the Bend area, an area of Oregon that was entirely new to me.
The Resort: We stayed at the lovely Sunriver Resort. The resort offers a bit of everything. Lodging options varied from my cozy, fireplace-warmed room with a snowy view to entire houses perfect for families. There were onsite restaurants, a spa, and access to everything you need to enjoy the outdoor recreation that the Bend area offers year round.
Not only did I get to check out one of the lodge rooms, thanks to a frozen water pipe which led to a non-working shower, I spent the last night in one of the lodge suites. Termed a suite, the two-story room was more like a small condo.
When I could manage to pull myself away from the fireplace, which let’s be honest was a bit of a challenge given that the temperature was barely above 0 degrees Saturday morning, I could not help but marvel at the beauty of the resort under layers of snow or squeal like a child because twinkle lights were everywhere.
The Party: One reason we chose to stay at Sunriver was because of the New Year’s Eve party. The idea was that staying at the resort would be convenient and provide easy access to the party.
What I had not considered was that, although, yes, the party was quite close to the room, that distance was primarily covered in snow. Snow which I had to traverse in 4-inch stilettos. The bruise on my knee from slipping and falling in the snow lasted at least 2 weeks. Thankfully, the memories – the photo booth, the silly party favors, the band, the champagne toast and kiss at midnight – will last much, much longer.
The Food: Fair warning. The below photos will both make you hungry and perhaps make you wonder how we had time to do anything except eat.
The Museum: We spent a cold afternoon perusing the High Desert Museum. The museum’s exhibits varied from regional art to the history of the Northwest Coast American Indians to animals found in the high desert. Amid all of this, we spent most of the afternoon looking for the porcupines. Brandon had told me about the giant porcupines that he remembered from his childhood. More than once, he shared how cool they were and how much I would like seeing them because they were, after all, giant porcupines. After making a full round of the museum, which included plenty of time outdoors in a place that was literally freezing, we wondered how we could have missed them. How does one miss giant porcupines? After asking the kind lady at the front desk, for the second time, where they were located, we again traipsed through the snow. To see this:
Fortunately, there were plenty of other things to see.
The Spa: Before braving the icy drive home, we stored up as much relaxation as possible with a morning at the spa. A massage, some time in the hot tub as the snow fell outside, and post-massage hot tea and chocolates was a pretty perfect end to a wonderful weekend.
The Boyfriend: Also known as the guy who made the weekend perfect.
Now that I think about it, three days was just not long enough.