I love exploring Oregon. And I love having company. Getting to explore Oregon with company? Maybe one of my favorite things. When my parents visited over the summer, I took advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a couple of nearby attractions.
The first is literally just down the road in the small town of Winston. Wildlife Safari began in 1972 as a conservation facility and has grown into that and more. The major attraction is the drive-through wild animal park, featuring dozens of species that can be seen from the car.
We saw zebras, giraffes, hippos, bears, and elephants, many of which get to roam completely free throughout their area of the park.
There is a spot to feed some of the animals (buying feed is an additional charge and the vehicular line is even slower than the drive through the rest of the park).
Wildlife Safari is especially known for their cheetah conservation and breeding program.
An adult ticket is $17.99 and kids up to 12 years old are $11.99 per ticket. However, I’ve noticed that there are usually specials available, so you may check out Groupon before you go. In addition to the drive through portion, there is the Safari Village, which houses additional animal displays. There are special events throughout the year, as well. It was a fun way to spend a sunny, summery morning.
The other, super fun, thing that I did with my parents was Hellgate Jetboat Excursions. This was seriously one of the most fun things I have done in a while. We chose to do the dinner tour. With our $66 tickets booked in advance (I would recommend this – our tour was completely full), we arrived at Hellgate’s check-in desk (which not so subtly requires one to walk through a rather large gift shop) and then to the line to get onto the boats.
We started the tour with a lovely, relatively tame, mostly dry trip down the river.
The scenery along the Rogue River was spectacular. We went all the way to Hellgate Canyon, with a few exciting spins and minor splashes thrown in.
We then turned around and stopped by Hellgate’s own restaurant, The Ok Corral, on the river for dinner. Despite the fact that there were almost 300 people present, dinner in the open-air restaurant was delicious and well paced.
The family style dinner included barbecue, salad, and delicious sides. I had preordered the vegetarian option, which was a surprisingly edible vegetarian lasagna.
And let’s not forget the classic Oregon summer dessert – berry crumble.
After dinner, there was time to wander around as the evening began to cool. Relaxed with the content feeling that only comes after dinner with good friends, little did we know what was in store.
The real fun began with the ride back. What had been lively spins on the first part of the tour became wildly fun spins and splashes, sometimes in conjunction with another one of the boats that had everyone soaked and laughing by the time we arrived back in Grants Pass.
There was literally no way to stay dry, even if you tried to use your child as a human shield, not to name names. My mom did her best to hide behind my dad. That too was unsuccessful. We had an absolute blast. As we pulled up to the dock to disembark from the tour, I felt a mix of disappointment that it was over and a strong desire to put on dry clothes. Too bad I hadn’t thought of that beforehand…
If you are looking for a delightful summer activity in southern Oregon I highly recommend Hellgate. They have a number of tours, including one that goes further into the canyon and a brunch tour that probably needs to be a part of my plans next summer.
And with that, another successful weekend with out of town guests was completed.
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.
This series of posts is pretty much all about what not to do while traveling. It’s generally not a great idea to plan a 72-hour trip to Asia from the US, especially when considering the 30+ hours of travel time. It’s probably not the smartest approach to drink large amounts of coffee just to stay upright and functional. And, although staying active in a new time zone is an important part of counteracting jet lag, going non-stop from 6 am until after midnight the day after you arrive in a new country, definitely not recommended. And yet, that’s exactly what I did.
Coffee #5: My day started earlier than desired. I woke up around 1:30 am, again around 3:45 am, and couldn’t stay in bed a minute longer at 5 am.
Shannon and I got an extra early start toward the Lotte Hotel where we were meeting for our all day DMZ tour. We had booked a tour through VIP travel. Tuesday through Friday, the tour offers hotel pickup, but on Saturdays the tour meets at a major Seoul hotel. Knowing we did not want to miss our 8 am tour time, we left extra early to allow ourselves plenty of time to navigate the subway system. Although what I discuss below will suggest otherwise, it is actually quite simple to get around Seoul. You can buy a reloadable T-card at a 7-11 or CU store and then add money to it at the readily available kiosks inside the stations. The card can be used in the subway, for taxis, buses, and other forms of transportation. Transportation is also affordable. The entire time I was there, I put 10,000 won (less than $10) on my T-card and spent another 5,000 won for the bus ride to the airport. Loading my T-card was one of the few times I needed cash, which I had withdrawn from the ATM at the airport the night before.
But back to the story. Good thing we left early, because we apparently lost all ability to successfully function. We could not figure out how to buy a reloadable T-card, so purchased a single ride card. Which then stopped working, leaving me unable to exit the subway station. Shannon stood on the other side of the barrier as I, only mildly panicked, figured out how to buy another card. Which also did not work (which I later realized was probably because I had not used that card to enter the subway system). Through some combination of desperation and magical thinking, I managed to get my single ride card functioning again, just in time for us to walk very quickly to our next subway…as it pulled away. Despite the series of debacles, we managed to make it to the hotel (and then, of course, take the incorrect elevator) before finally making it to the check-in desk for the tour. It really shouldn’t have been that difficult.
The trouble we had navigating what is actually a rather straightforward subway system could only mean one thing, time for
Coffee #6: After checking in for the tour and being directed to the bus, we had 30 minutes to find the nearby Starbucks.
Now we are prepared to tour the DMZ.
The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a line running 155 miles east to west across Korea, dividing the peninsula in two. After a cease fire was signed in 1953 a line, referred to as the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), was literally drawn across the country in the form of regularly placed markers. The DMZ is the area on either side of the MDL – 2 kilometers to the north and 2 kilometers to the south. With a few exceptions, this area is primarily uninhabited and makes for one heck of an interesting day tour, even if one has to submit one’s passport in advance of the tour and undergo multiple security screenings. On the South Korean side, there is a highly militarized area just south of the DMZ, called the Civilian Control Area, that is also generally inaccessible to the public.
Our first stop was Dora Observatory. Located on a mountain, the observatory offers a great viewpoint of areas within the DMZ, as well as the southern part of North Korea. For about 500 won (less than 50 cents), you can use binoculars to get an even better view.
After getting an overview of the area above ground, we headed underground at the 3rd Tunnel. Opportunities to take pictures were limited to prior to entering the tunnel. It is one of the four discovered tunnels that were reportedly built by North Korea in order to infiltrate South Korea.
The next stop was Dorasan Station, the northernmost train stop in South Korea. For a brief period of time trains carried freight between the two sides of the peninsula. However, there have been no trains between the two countries since 2008. The station is eerily quiet and now serves almost exclusively as a tourist destination. To me, it also seemed to represent the conflicting and mutually held beliefs expressed throughout the tour: that North Korea is the enemy and yet that reunification is desired. It is certainly a complicated part of the world with no easy solutions.
Despite the smile on my face, by this point, I was dragging. I felt terrible. I was getting a headache and all I wanted was to take a nap. Thankfully, it was time for lunch. My vegetarian bibimbap was delicious, although rather hard to capture in a photo.
Despite the venti coffee earlier, not even lunch was sufficient to perk me up. So…
Coffee #7: My post-lunch coffee is a type of coffee that is popular in Korea. It was powdered coffee, sugar, and creamer all in one. Not my favorite, but it got the job done. As in, I no longer felt like I was going to die within the hour. Maybe by the end of the day, but at least not within the hour.
After lunch, our first stop was Imjingak Park and the Freedom Bridge, a spot where prisoners were exchanged after the cease fire. It now serves as a place to commemorate, and mourn, the lifelong separation that has occurred between family and friends since the peninsula was divided.
And then we got to the highlight of the day, entry into the Joint Security Area. This was the most intense and controlled aspect of the tour. With multiple passport checks and detailed instructions about what to do and not do, the tension at this point was palpable. The dress code was regulated, pictures could only be taken in certain spots and for a limited amount of time, there was no bending over or using hand gestures (I’ve never felt so worried about unconsciously fixing my hair in my entire life). All of that was worth it for the opportunity to actually put a foot into North Korea. The JSA includes a series of conference rooms literally divided down the middle across the MDL where delegates from the North and South occasionally meet.
After a very full day, we arrived back in Seoul just as the Christmas lights were coming on in the city.
Normal people would, at this point, perhaps grab a quick bite to eat and then get some rest. But us? That would just be too predictable, too boring. What do we do? We drink
Coffee #8: We regroup at a coffee shop in the nearby Lotte Department Store and plan how we are going to spend the rest of the evening, although perhaps getting back to a place where we can sleep after midnight was not exactly what we intended.
The plan was walk along Cheonggyeceon, a scenic stream running through the city, until we got to the Insa-dong area for dinner and perhaps some shopping. We would end the night by taking the cable car to Seoul Tower for an overview of the city at night. Because we had not done enough for one day.
We found the stream without incident, but ended up wandering a bit trying to get to Insa-dong.
We eventually found the right area of town and walked around until we found the perfect spot for an extra hearty Korean dinner.
After dinner, a subway ride, a taxi ride, and waiting in a looooong line for the cable car to the Seoul Tower, it would be tempting to think that we were too tired to enjoy it. But that would be incorrect. The view from the top was breathtaking!
It was also rather romantic, which made me really miss the boyfriend.
By this point, it was about 10:30. We still had to again wait in line for the return cable car, take the cable car to the bottom, take a taxi to the closest subway station, take a series of subways back to our part of town, and then either walk back to where we were staying or wait for the bus. Incidentally, this seems like a good time to mention the Korea Subway app. It’s easy to use, especially if, like Shannon, you have a wifi egg to access the internet wherever you go. I can highly recommend both the app and the egg. When the Subway app was used in conjunction with the Visit Korea app, it was simple to figure out where I wanted to go and exactly how to get there.
When we got off at our station, we had a difficult decision to make. Take the 10 minute walk back on oh-so-tired feet that had already walked 8 plus miles that day or wait a few minutes in the cold for the bus. Fatigue won out and we decided to wait for the bus. And then we waited and waited and waited. We waited as multiple buses passed, none of them ours. It became a sick game where we would see a bus on the horizon, momentarily allowing our hopes to rise, only to have them dashed moments later when we discovered that it was not, in fact, our bus. After every other bus that stopped at that stop passed by, twice, and thirty minutes had passed, we decided our only option was to walk back. At this point it was midnight. We had been going since 6 am. I had arrived in the country after a 12.5 hour flight only a day before. To say I was tired was an understatement. Somehow, we managed to put one foot in front of the other to make it back. We may have taken turns groaning out loud (I can’t help but think that this would have been easier to handle 10 years ago…), spurring one another on with promises of beds and hot chocolate. In case you’re wondering, this is what I felt like at the end of the day:
It was a day I will never forget. Despite the fatigue and the sore and blistered feet, I would not change a bit of it. If I was only going to be in South Korea for 72 hours, I might as well make the most of it!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I had just enough time to dry off before heading back into the rain. For a walking tour.
A 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.
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.
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.