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On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Rockhouse

I cannot remember exactly when or where I first learned of Rockhouse. I am sure it was in one of the many travel blogs or articles that I find myself reading on a regular basis. What I do remember is that from the first moment I saw the clear blue water and thatched huts nestled among the tropical trees, I knew I had to go there. If you’ve ever heard me talk about my list of places I want to travel, you know it is quite (probably impossibly) long. Despite that, I added not just Jamaica, but specifically Rockhouse to that list.

This brings me to last February. As I often do, I was sending Brandon several travel deals and ideas. And then came the moment when he said, “Sure! Let’s do it.” This is not a moment that happens often, for if it did we would be broke and homeless. Someone has got to put the brakes on my travel addiction. At the time, I had put together a plan to go to Singapore with some frequent flyer miles I had earned through two credit card signup bonuses. Although that particular plan did not end up working out, because I had gotten Brandon to agree to take a trip, I kept researching what our other options might be.

Enter Jamaica. This is where the stars aligned and everything came together.

First, Jamaica itself. Although I had heard mixed things about it (some people loved it, some did not), I had a feeling it would be the kind of place we would love. This would also be Brandon’s first international trip. Although I am not opposed to the challenges of international travel because I have also experienced the life-changingness of it, I wanted to minimize the chance of difficulties (I’ve had some humdingers in recent years) and go to a place that would be relatively easy (e.g., fewer language barriers, a place frequented by tourists where the customs process wouldn’t be overwhelming, etc.) where we could also get off the beaten and experience the unfamiliar. Plus, Brandon loves reggae music and I knew the food would be great and the beaches would be beautiful. I wanted to find a place that would get Brandon as hooked as I am on traveling outside of the US. Jamaica seemed to be juuuust right.

Second, availability. Rockhouse books out months, sometimes up to a year, in advance. Reward flight availability is sometimes tricky to find. Put those things together and finding a time that worked was a small miracle. But find a time I did and it just happened to be around our two year dating anniversary in September. This meant going during the low season, but by the end of the trip, we felt that we actually preferred that; it also meant that Rockhouse was affordable for us during that time. Even better, going to Jamaica instead of Singapore meant I would have more airline miles available for another trip down the line (those points may or may not already be used now, but you’ll just have to wait and see…).

I love it when a plan comes together.

Then we just had to wait the 6 1/2 months from the time we booked the trip until we left. Thankfully, we had a busy spring and summer to keep us distracted, but we both spent the months leading up to the trip anticipating our week in Jamaica. We talked about what we wanted to do and reminded each other, in those moments when we were feeling stressed or overwhelmed, about how amazing it would be. And I love that part. A week’s vacation is so short and I love stretching the enjoyment of it with the anticipation and planning. And I love getting to blog about the trip and relive it once I return. But there’s always the risk that a long awaited trip won’t quite live up to the expectations and excitement.

So it was with much excitement and a hint of trepidation that we set out on our Jamaican adventure.

Because I had used reward points, our routing was a bit circuitous, but it actually worked out. Although Jamaica was not significantly impacted by hurricanes over the summer, much of the Caribbean was, as were the airports we would have been most likely to fly through if we had taken a more typical route. For instance, the Miami airport was closed on the days of our flights to Jamaica. But, we were far from Miami as we flew from Eugene to San Francisco to Panama to Jamaica. (Side note here, make sure that you familiarize yourself with all entry requirements before going to a country. Because we flew through Panama, we had to have yellow fever vaccines to enter Jamaica. If I had not read the small print about this requirement being applied even to those who transited through affected countries, we would have been denied entry to Jamaica. Vacation ruined). We also had some super long layovers, so I used all my tricks to make the flights as painless as possible.

I brought some good books that did not require the use of technology. I had audiobooks on my phone as backup, but I prefer to read the old fashioned way on vacation.
We used our long layover in SFO to catch up with family and friends before our technology connections would be limited to wifi.
I dressed for comfort (yes, I may have bought an entirely new outfit just for this purpose)
Best of all, I used the two United Club day passes I had to get entry into the lounge in the international terminal. It is not the best lounge ever, but it was better than waiting in the terminal and the free food and drinks helped a long layover pass more quickly.
Lounge snacks

And I made sure this guy had a good meal before getting on our overnight flight to Panama. You never know how airplane food is going to be, especially because we were flying an airline – Copa Airlines – that I had never flown before. We had dinner at 1300 on Fillmore, which is at the end of the international terminal.
A French 75 and a Fillmore Kiss – Jim Beam, raspberry liqueur, peach schnapps, and sour mix
Some fried okra
Smoked mac n cheese (mine is still better)
And a delicious fried chicken sandwich

Feeling relaxed with full bellies, we both managed to get a bit of sleep on our overnight flight, but we were feeling rather bedraggled by the time we arrived in Panama. Thankfully, we had plenty of time to get coffee before our (relatively) short flight to Jamaica. There was a great moment when Brandon went to pay for the coffee, pulled out a (US) $20, and then realized that $20 bill definitely wouldn’t pay for the coffee (although, to be fair, I had told him that US money is widely accepted in Jamaica; between the cash we had on hand and the use of credit cards, we never had to visit an ATM in Jamaica).

I’ll be honest, by this point we were both pretty done with traveling. We had left Oregon the previous afternoon, spent 6 hours in the San Francisco airport, flown another 8 – 9 hours to Panama and arrived early in the morning. We were ready to be in Jamaica!

Thankfully, the two hour flight to paradise was short and sweet. We could feel the excitement mounting as we peeked out the window to get our first glance of the island.

Let’s get off this plane!!!

Of course, even as we landed, we knew the hassle was not yet done. We still had to get through customs, which was a little slow and at times chaotic. But we made it! Thankfully, I had pre-booked our transportation from the airport with Gary’s Jamaican Taxi, a company out of Negril. Our driver, Fabian, was wonderful and we would end up calling him again for transportation during the week. We flew into Montego Bay, so it was an hour and a half drive from the airport to Negril on the west coast. But the car was comfortable, the scenic drive along the coast was incredible, and the reggae music playing on the radio helped us settle into our vacation. Fabian made sure to point out the two most common buildings in Jamaica – churches and bars, usually right next to one another.

And then we arrived. We arrived at a place I had been dreaming about, literally for years. It was almost like a dream as we pulled up to the open air front desk and were greeted with rum punches and friendly smiles. From that moment, all of the stress and fatigue of traveling became unequivocally worthwhile.

We were personally shown to our room and given a brief overview of the property. Sadly, even in low season we could not afford one of the villas. Not so sadly, our studio room with an ocean view balcony was absolutely perfect.

There was even an outdoor shower with lovely local bath products and the best smelling aloe vera I’ve ever used.

It was immediately apparent that this was a special place well beyond the average Jamaican resort. Obviously, the room was wonderful. Created to reflect a genuine sense of place, the building materials were locally sourced and the design was uniquely Jamaican. But it was so much more than that. There was a clear commitment to making sure guests had an incredible experience. Staff got to know us by name, which is possible when there are only 36 rooms and villas. Moreover, it was a company committed to the community around it. The employees were clearly valued and seemed to enjoy working at the resort. The Rockhouse Foundation has built or transformed schools throughout the area and while we were there, a fifth school, the first school in the region devoted entirely to children with special needs, was soon to be opened. They do all of this while being committed to green environmental practices. A stay at Rockhouse is a special experience and well worth the $125 per night that we paid for our studio room.

And it was not just a beautiful room. The entire property was a tropical garden. Located in the area of Negril known as The Cliffs, there was no beach. However, the water was easily accessible by the bright red ladders placed throughout the property and the tradeoff was a greater sense of solitude than could be found at the large beach resorts. We spent our first afternoon in Jamaica simply exploring, finding all the little nooks and crannies hidden throughout the resort. Little did I know that Brandon had another purpose for all of the exploring…

My handsome man taking in the view

Because of the hurricane, the waves were too high to get into the water and the pool was closed that first afternoon, but there would be plenty of time for that later. For the moment, we enjoyed being in a beautiful place and being together. We took in the views and slowly recovered from our long flights. Rockhouse was everything I hoped it would be and so much more.

 

 

 

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A Year Isn’t Long Enough

Fair warning: This could get mushy. Proceed at your own risk.

We had a lovely summer: hot afternoons spent floating the Umpqua River or relaxing half in and half out of the river’s pleasantly cold water, weekends of camping and hiking that were over before they began, my first music festival, and, most of all, falling even more in love with this man whose adventurous and fun-loving nature had pushed me out of my comfort zone and whose kindness and substantial love created a safe place for me to be myself. This had been the most absolutely wonderful summer of my entire life. I even managed to buy a house and move into it almost exactly two years to the day after arriving in Oregon. It was simply perfection.

But the summer, as do all good things, ended. September snuck in with its subtly cooler nights and a hint of frantic energy as the world around us returned to routines and regularity. We could not let the summer end without one last hurrah and our one year dating anniversary  provided the perfect excuse. Our destination a secret until almost the last minute, I anticipated our weekend away and reminisced on what a summer, what a year, it had been.

Brandon planned a weekend full of the things we most loved to do – appreciating beautiful scenery, preferably by foot, having adventures with at least a slight possibility of injury or death, exploring new places, eating an almost embarrassing amount of mouthwatering food, and most of all, spending time together.

We began the weekend with a stop by Crater Lake. A place I have visited and written about multiple times since moving to Oregon, I don’t think I will ever tire of seeing the unbelievably blue water and incredible views to be found in the national park.

We arrived right at lunchtime and decided to eat lunch in the lodge restaurant before setting out to explore. The lunch was delicious, especially considering that Crater Lake is in the middle of nowhere and that bringing in supplies cannot be the most straightforward matter.

Staying here is on my Oregon Bucket List. Maybe next year.
We shared the soup of the day, which was a flavorful, brothy soup with sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts.

Brandon’s choice of the frittata was, no surprise, shockingly similar to breakfast food.
And I chose the crab salad in avocados because everything is better in a bowl made out of an avocado. And because calories do not count on vacation.

After lunch, we set out to explore a bit of the park.

At this point we needed to burn off at least part of our lunchtime calories with a hike. Plus, the day was absolute perfection with blue skies and sunshine for days and a temperature in the low 70’s. It was the kind of day that makes you happy simply to be alive to witness it. Such a day should never be wasted indoors. After considering our options, we settled on Watchman Lookout Trail.

See that teeny, tiny building at the top? That’s where we were going.

It was short enough, less than a mile to the top, to easily fit with our other plans for the day. Plus, it was challenging enough to feel like an actual hike, not just a walk, with a steady uphill climb, but the switchbacks were not so steep as to make you regret your life (I’m looking at you Garfield Peak). And then there were the views.

The hike offered open views of the surrounding scenery with glimpses of the lake. Once at the top, which is an old fire lookout (hence the name of the trail), there is an unparalleled view of Crater Lake, the kind of view that makes it hard to breath because it is so beautiful.

It is moments like this, where I am in a place almost too beautiful to be believed, arm in arm with the man I love, that gratitude comes most easily. It presents as a sense of overwhelming joy that tangibly wells up inside of me until I am full of emotion, inexplicably crying because I am so perfectly, so undoubtedly, happy.

What a way to start the weekend!

After Crater Lake, we headed toward our ultimate destination for the weekend, Bend. As you may recall, we had started the year in Bend amid the snow and the cold. Brandon wanted to return in the warm weather and while the caves were still open for the year.

At the last minute, the vacation rental he had reserved for the weekend fell through. The silver lining of that is that we ended up staying at Riverhouse on the Deschutes.

As an (obviously relevant) aside, the Deschutes is the major river in this area of Oregon. Thus, there are many places and things with Deschutes in the title, much as you find with the Umpqua River in Roseburg. Although my southern accent is generally not too noticeable, when I pronounced Deschutes, my accent was not just present, but entirely unmistakable. Which meant Brandon took every opportunity to have me say “Day-shoots.” Apparently my elusive accent is both endearing and quite funny.

But back to the hotel. It was lovely. The rooms were spacious and comfortable, with understated design that fit with the hotel’s overall modern-with-a-hint-of-rustic feel.

Built along both sides of the Deschutes River, river views were plentiful. Although our last minutes plans prevented maximizing the trip with a river view room, there were certainly plenty of opportunities to enjoy it while we walked across the pedestrian bridge to the main part of the hotel or to the pools.

I should probably mention that immediately prior to the trip, Brandon had spent 2 days singlehandedly moving 10 yards of dirt that had been delivered unceremoniously onto my driveway to the backyard so that we could plant grass. Not only did that effort make me feel incredibly loved (I mean, the guy literally moved a mountain of dirt for me), but it also meant Brandon was really in need of a hot tub to sooth aching muscles. Good thing Riverhouse delivered with not just one, but two, hot tubs.

Here is the point when I would normally tell you about the amazing dinner we had after settling into our hotel. You know, the usual unique spot with locally sourced food that we tend to frequent when we travel. However. Upon consulting some of our usual sources for finding the previously mentioned type of restaurant, I happened to notice that there was a Johnny Carino’s nearby. Brandon had never been to Carino’s and I had not been since I moved to Oregon. In that moment, I knew that if I really loved him, I would allow him to have Italian nachos in his life. And by allow, I mean freak out and demand that we go to Carino’s for dinner despite all of the other amazing options available in Bend.

True love on a plate. We both felt good about this decision.

So perhaps our day did not end on a typically “gourmet” note, but it was pretty much a perfect day full of beauty and love and, yes, delicious food. I can’t think of a better kind of day and this was just the beginning.

 

Sleeping in Seattle Day 2

After a pretty amazing night’s sleep thanks to the awesomeness of my bed and the room in which it was located, I awoke to a cloudy but nonetheless lovely morning. I reconnected with my friends for a low-key breakfast at Hitchcock Deli followed by more I-can’t-possibly-afford-anything-in-this-shop browsing. And another visit to the bookstore. Just because it’s awesome.

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The day was becoming increasingly cloudy, but we decided to all head over to Seattle together on the ferry because I was going that way anyway. I love the ferry between Bainbridge and Seattle – even on a cloudy day, the views are hard to beat.

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It was sooo windy. And cold.
It was sooo windy. And cold. And did I mention windy? We had crazy hair.

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Just about the time we arrived in Seattle, it began to rain. And by rain, I mean the sky opened up and started pouring and did not stop for hours. Basically, I spent the rest of the day cold and wet. But not even the rain could keep me from having a good time. I ended my visit with Sara and Ryan over a delicious lunch at Cafe Campagne, a spot we chose almost entirely because it had a roof and chairs and the possibility of food. We were not feeling too picky at that point. Fortunately, the french onion soup I ordered was the perfect way to warm up while momentarily drying out.

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I had a great time catching up with my friend Sara. I was sad to say goodbye as we parted ways, but I still had some fun plans in store.

But first, my hotel. My hotel of choice was the Palladian Hotel in downtown Seattle. I chose to stay here based upon two things: it was a Kimpton hotel and it was within walking distance of the tour I would do that afternoon. Which was important because it was entitled the Booze n’ Bites tour. Emphasis on the word booze. Just sayin’.

This hotel was seriously cool. It was quirky and stylish and completely unique.

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I got to sleep with Leo. Every woman’s dream, right?!

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I had just enough time to dry off before heading back into the rain. For a walking tour.

IMG_6160A few years ago, I had taken my first Savor Seattle tour. I had completely enjoyed it and knew that another trip to Seattle was the perfect opportunity to go on another one of their tours. This time, I chose the Booze n’ Bites tour, a tour focused on the food (and alcohol) culture of Seattle.

The tour began at Rachel’s Ginger Beer.

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It might be raining just a little bit less at this point. Maybe.
It might be raining just a little bit less at this point. Maybe.
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Meeting up with my tour group. I was the only weirdo who decided to do the tour by myself. 
The first cocktail of the day was the Montana Mule, made with RGB's handcrafted ginger beer and whiskey.
The first cocktail of the day was the Montana Mule, made with RGB’s handcrafted ginger beer and whiskey.
Our second stop was Cantina de San Patricio
Our second stop was Cantina de San Patricio

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Taco, guacamole, and some type of really spicy drink made with green chile and jalapeño vodkas. This former Texan could not have been happier.
Taco, guacamole, and some type of really spicy drink made with green chile and jalapeño vodkas. This former Texan could not have been happier.
Stop #3 was Long Provincial Vietnamese, where we tried salad rolls with peanut sauce and a lemongrass martini. I was really enjoying the tour by this point.
Stop #3 was Long Provincial Vietnamese, where we tried salad rolls with peanut sauce and a lemongrass martini. I was really enjoying the tour by this point.

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Not even the persistent rain could dampen my spirits by this point.
Not even the persistent rain could dampen my spirits.

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Up next was The Diller Room. It was an original Seattle speakeasy and is now a popular happy/any hour spot. I cannot remember what the drink was (something made with whisky...?), but the mushroom muffuletta is impossible to forget. I could eat that All. Day. Long.
Up next was The Diller Room. It was an original Seattle speakeasy and is now a popular happy/any hour spot. I cannot remember what the drink was (something made with whisky…?), but the mushroom muffuletta is impossible to forget. I could eat that All. Day. Long.

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Our fifth and final stop was Von's 1000Spirits GustroBistro. This place is rumored to have Seattle's largest collection of spirits, a claim that I definitely believe.
Our fifth and final stop was Von’s 1000Spirits GustroBistro. This place is rumored to have Seattle’s largest collection of spirits, a claim that I definitely believe.
A cosmopolitan made with spun sugar. I will admit this was probably my favorite drink of the tour. And lest you think I drank 5 cocktails in the course of a couple of hours (they were mostly half size, by the way), I assure you I only drank the ones that I liked...
A cosmopolitan made with spun sugar. I will admit this was probably my favorite drink of the tour.
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And lest you think I drank 5 cocktails in the course of a couple of hours (they were mostly half-size, by the way), I assure you I only drank the ones that I liked…

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And then there was pizza. Wood-fired, cheesy, yummy pizza.
And then there was pizza. Wood-fired, cheesy, yummy pizza.

My second Savor Seattle tour did not disappoint. I would not hesitate to take another one of their tours in the future. I highly recommend checking them out if you are in Seattle.

After a cold and rainy day, all I really wanted to do was curl up in bed, order room service, and be my introverted self. However, I had made plans with another friend of mine, who I originally met while we were on internship in Houston and who had recently moved back to Seattle (apparently getting a PhD = knowing people everywhere). That meant drying myself off and taking an Uber (side note: how does one specify the verb form of using Uber? To Uber? Ubering? Someone please enlighten me) to a house party with a bunch of people I’ve never met. You read that correctly, I went to a house party. A party at which I only knew one person. And I almost utterly failed to document such a rare occurrence, although I did manage to snap exactly one picture.

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I actually had a fun time and it was a chance to catch up with another friend. Plus, travel presents the perfect opportunity for me to push myself just a bit out of my comfort zone, which is good to do now and then. But, I will admit that by the end of the night, I was ready to return to my hotel, talk to no one, and sleep with Leonardo DiCaprio, the pillow.

 

 

Sleeping in Seattle Day 1

One of my rules for life: When a friend says “Do you want to go to (insert pretty much any place in the world here)?” the answer is always “Yes!” A resounding, unhesitating, absolutely I-will-make-this-happen, yes. Thus, when my friend Sara mentioned that she was going to be in the Seattle area and asked if I wanted to meet her, there was really only one way to respond. For weeks, I looked forward to spending time with one of my “Dallas friends.” Getting to spend a weekend in one of my favorite cities was just an added bonus.

The adventure began with an early morning road trip fueled by Dutch Bros coffee.

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A six-hour drive later, I was just in time to meet Sara for lunch on Bainbridge Island, where I would be staying for the first night. After considering our options, we decided that lunch at Doc’s Marina Grill was just about perfect.

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Smoked salmon mac-n-cheese. Ummm, yes!

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We spent the afternoon browsing the many lovely and oh-so-expensive shops of downtown Bainbridge. There was this little tiny candle that I wanted to buy because it smelled like bliss. I wanted to buy it until I saw the $55 price tag. No thank you. I can do without the smell of actual bliss in my life.

My favorite stop had to be Eagle Harbor Book Co. There is nothing quite like stepping into a book store and taking a deep breath laden with the smell of real books, feeling the hint of excitement as my fingertips longingly touch the covers of as yet unread novels, my mind full of curiosity about the stories within.

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This was also the scene of my first-ever celebrity sighting. I was in the process of trying to stop myself from buying one of everything when suddenly Sara appeared next to me and began excitedly whispering that Elizabeth Mitchell was nearby. We pretended to be highly interested in calendars and self-help books as we subtly (I promise!) followed her around the store. My only chance to get a picture occurred a few minutes later as we left the bookstore. In case you can’t tell, she’s the tall one in the brown shirt gracefully running down the sidewalk.

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After a warm afternoon of shopping and enjoying the scenery, it only made sense to eat ice cream. And if you’re going to eat ice cream on Bainbridge Island, you’re going to eat ice cream at Mora Iced Creamery. Calories do not count when you’re on vacation, right?

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After all of the driving, shopping, walking, and eating, I needed a nap. I decided it was the perfect time to check into my hotel. Which was a mistake. Because once I did, I never wanted to leave. Ever again. I wanted to move in and live there forever. My hotel of choice was not really a hotel, but rather a small inn. The Inn at Pleasant Beach was everything I love in a place to stay: beautiful, unique, and comfortable with an amazing view and incredible attention to detail. Seriously, never go there because your life will never be the same. You will be utterly dissatisfied with every other place you sleep.

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I never wanted to leave this spot.

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Literally, the only problem with the room is that it felt like a bit of a waste to stay in such a romantic place all alone. But I did my best to hold up under the disappointment. In fact, it would take some seriously awesome plans for me to be willing to leave my cozy room. Thankfully, I had just that – dinner reservations at Restaurant Marche with Sara, her husband, and her in-laws. There is just about nothing that makes me happier than great food and interesting conversation with wonderful people. This evening did not disappoint.

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Cheers to friendship and the French 75, which is now perhaps a new favorite cocktail of mine.
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Picture with the chef. I know people.

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Vichyssoise
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The vegetable plate was beyond delicious – corn flan, sautéed collard greens (maybe my favorite), gingered green beans, roasted cauliflower, and wood-fired zucchini. Not pictured, but also one of the best things ever – the frites with house-made ketchup and aioli.

And of course, it’s not a complete meal without dessert. We needed to make sure all the food groups were covered and I am fairly confident that “dessert” is one of them. Or should be.

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Meals like that, full of delicious food, laughter, and free flowing conversation including an impromptu book club – life does not get better than that.

After returning to the inn, I could think of no better way to end my day than by taking a relaxing, hot bath (in that incredible bath tub – I could practically swim in it) followed by drinking hot tea while reading a great book curled up next to the fire.

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It had been a long and wonderful day; it took me approximately 3.8 minutes to fall asleep after crawling into the super comfy bed. Sometimes, life is perfect.