Oregon Brewers Festival Starts Wednesday

Here in Portland, we love our craft beer.  With 40+ individual breweries and counting Portland is definitely a beer destination.  Throughout the year there are a variety of beer festivals.  The grandaddy of them all is the Oregon Brewers Festival, which starts on Wednesday.  The festival has come a long way since it started in 1988 when there were just 22 breweries represented.  This year there will be 85 different breweries from across the world sharing their beer with us.

If you have never been to this event, I highly encourage you given it a try.  While it can get a little busy, weekday afternoons are usually mellow enough.  The largest crowds will be Friday night and on Saturday and Sunday.

Admission to the brewers festival is free.  However, if you want to taste the beer you need to buy a tasting mug and wooden tokens.  The mug is $7 and tasting tokens are $1.   A taste will cost you one token and a full mug will cost you four.  The exception is the speciality tent which only serves tastes for two tokens.  There are food vendors, music, and best of all children are welcome.  It is a great event and a Portland must.

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A Mostly Pictures Trip Report: Part 1 Bruges

Note:  I was going to do this all in one post, but I have too many pictures to share and the page loaded up slow.  So here is part 1, Bruges.  Part 2 will be Brussels and Paris. 

During the last week of June, my wife and I dropped the kids of at grandma and grandpa’s and flew to Europe for a week.  We flew into Brussels and out of Paris.  Our flight got off to an interesting start with our 90 minute delay out of O’Hare.  The result meant that we missed our connection in Madrid to get to Brussels so we ended up getting into Bruges around 7:00 PM instead of around 2:00 as originally intended.  Oh, and us taking the local train to Bruges instead of the IC didn’t help either.

However, once in Bruges we mostly had it to ourselves.  Bruges gets a lot of day trippers so staying overnight there is terrific.  Once 6:00 or 7:00 pm rolls around the streets are mostly empty.

BRUGES

Before exploring the town, we of course had to get hydrated with some locally brewed beer.  Bruges Zot.

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We then walked around town, and mostly had the town to ourselves.

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We spent a few hours walking around then ate a late dinner.  After dinner the square was dark and the bell tower was lit up, it was even prettier in person.

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The next morning the market turned into a farmers market with fresh produce, meat, fish, bread, etc…

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I have a rule for most towns I visit in Europe, climb the tower.  Bruges was no exception and here is the view.

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We continued walking around town and visited some of the highlights, including a Madonna and Child by De Vinci in St. Catherine’s Church (the one on the left above), the Basilica of the Holy Blood, and a tour of the local brewery.

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Bruges packs in a lot of great sightseeing for such a small town because back it it’s heyday it was the same size as London.  It had the wealth to purchase masterpieces like the above.

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During the second crusade a local crusader allegedly brought back a vial of Christ’s blood which is housed in the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The picture above is the alter where the blood is stored.  We continued on our walk after the Basilica.

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We finished our walk at De Halve Maan brewery and had a pre-tour beer.  During our tour of the town we also had to enjoy a local delicacy.

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About the fries, they were spectacular.  While I am pretty sure you can find fries at home that are cooked just as well (perfect I should add), I’m not convinced you can find mayo like that at home.  Locals eat these with mayo and and I can see why.  The mayo is so rich and creamy it is downright decadent.  My one regret in Bruges was not eating more of these and possibly not staying an entire week.

After exploring the Bruges in the morning, we rented bikes in the afternoon to explore the outer edges and we took a 20 minute ride out the canal to Damme.  It had a pretty cool ruined church.

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After the bike ride we returned to Bruges for dinner.  Our original plan had been to stay in Brussels for 3 days and just day trip to Bruges.  A friend suggested we spend two nights in Bruges.  In hindsight, I was thankful for the advice.  Bruges is a virtual ghost town in the evening.  After all the day trippers leave Bruges is so peaceful. The entire city center is a Unesco World Heritage Sight and when you visit it is obvious why.  It is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe.  It is an amazing place to visit.

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Why The Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris Sucks

I just completed a short trip to Belgium and France and wanted to share some of my thoughts.  This trip was a new experience for my wife and I.  I have been collecting miles and points for about 4 years now.  We have redeemed those points for many domestic trips, but this was our first international trip with points.  We flew business class, stayed in fancy hotels, and did it all for $600 in taxes and fees.  On our flight home, I was continually thinking about something Rick Steves said in an interview a few years back when he was asked about the difference between a tourist and a traveler.

I’ll give you an example. A few years ago, my family was excited to go to Mazatlán. You get a little strap around your wrist and can have as many margaritas as you want. They only let you see good-looking local people, who give you a massage. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I don’t consider it travel. I consider it hedonism. And I have no problem with hedonism. But don’t call it travel. Travel should bring us together.

For the most part of our trip, especially at the Park Hyatt Vendome, I felt like I was on a cruise ship, minus the boat.  Instead of a wrist bracelet, I had my hotel elite status.  I had twice daily housekeeping service, heated stone tiles in the bathroom, a rain shower, and I was surrounded by good looking people with money.  What was there not to like?

What was not to like was that the Park Hyatt was missing something that I value, highly, when traveling abroad.  People.  The hotel is not in a residential area.  It is in a mostly commercial area surrounded by high-end stores like Cartier, Tiffany’s, Mont Blanc, and more.  This is what window shopping looks like by the Park Hyatt.

Cartier Paris

I do not travel to pretend I am a part of the 1%.  I travel to experience new cultures, to learn about myself, and others.  The Park Hyatt, is no different than a cruise ship occasionally dropping you off at port so you can see the sights and say you’ve been there.

When I travel I prefer to stay in neighborhoods where people live.  The restaurant food is better, people are friendlier, and you can experience a new place in a more intimate way. As opposed to just dropping in and retreating to the confines of your luxury suite at the Park Hyatt.

Part of the reason I chose to travel in this way was because I wanted to experience something new. I have never flown international business class, I have never stayed at a $1200 a night hotel, and to a large degree I was influenced by mile and point bloggers who present this as the way to travel.

What I learned about this way of travel is that the bloggers are wrong.  For me, at least, it is not the way to travel.  In fact, I hardly consider it travel at all.  The bloggers (who are the face of this hobby) have lost perspective (or maybe they never had it).  Instead of the flight and hotel being the vehicle by which you experience a new destination and culture.  The destination has become the vehicle by which you experience a hotel and flight.   Like passengers on a cruise ship, it is hedonism, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Just do not call it travel. “Travel should bring us together.”

Let me give you an example of how travel should bring us together.  My favorite lodging in Italy was a place called Manuel’s Guesthouse in Cinque Terre.  Manuel had about five rooms to rent in his house.  He had a wonderful terrace that doubled as his outdoor kitchen.  In the evenings you could chat with him, his nephew, and fellow travelers from all over the world, while taking in this view.

Manuels Guesthouse View

By limiting yourself to lodgings where your hotel elite status gets you a suite upgrade you are missing out on what travel should be about.  Connecting with people.  Next time, I will confine my hedonism to the flight and skip the fancy hotel.  This trip reaffirmed my love of small B&Bs and pensions, located in residential neighborhoods.  I may not have a nightly turn down service and bottles of Evian every morning but I will happily trade that for a more intimate connection with the people and place I am visiting.

Forgive me for this little rant, in my next post I will actually talk about the places I visited and have pictures.

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Odds and Ends, I’m off to Europe, SoCal to Canada Road Trip, WWeek Summer Guide

On Monday my wife and I depart to Belgium for our quick but still going to be great vacation to Belgium and France.  We used frequent flyer miles and hotel points to book this trip.  If you are interested in how we did it and seeing how much money we saved check out this old post.

For those of you who like road trips and are interested in an I-5 road trip Julie over at Girl on the Move compiled a good list of to do’s for people trekking up to BC on I-5.

Willamette Week released their 2014 summer guide this week.  I’m a big fan of the local guides that Willamette Week publishes throughout the year so make sure to check it out before your trip this summer.

Lastly, with our departure on Monday the blog will be quiet for the next couple of weeks. When I return I will post some pictures and my thoughts on our trip.  I’ve used frequent flyer miles in the past to fly domestically, but never internationally, let alone in First/Business Class.  We are your classic budget travelers so staying at a place like the Park Hyatt Vendome will be a new experience for us, definitely out of our norm.  I am a firm believer in trying new things, so we will see how it goes.

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Bamboo Sushi: My New Favorite Sushi Restaurant

I love sushi, but I do have one problem with it.  I eat a ton of it!  As a result when searching for sushi restaurants I usually look for places that offer good value.  I’ve often told people that I am not a sushi connoisseur.  That while I know the difference between bad sushi and good sushi, I cannot tell the difference between good sushi and even better sushi.  Well, apparently, I just had to go the right place.  Bamboo Sushi is freaking good and better than my go to sushi place, Sansai.

The menu at Bamboo is pretty diverse with many things I have never tried before. Naturally that meant I needed to try some of them, such as the quail egg shooters.

Bamboo Sushi Qual Eggs

They quail eggs were actually pretty tasty (although you good easily swallow them without tasting them) I chewed mine a little to taste it and they were good.  It was mostly yolk but had good flavor and because the size was small the texture of a raw egg is not too bothersome.

For dinner we ordered salmon sashimi, arctic surf clam nigiri, tuna nigiri, philly rolls, soft shell crab rolls, and cocktails.

Bamboo Sushi

Unfortunately, missing in the picture above is the surf clam nigiri.  I was so excited to try it, I ate it, then realized I meant to take a picture, oops.  The sushi was outstanding.  The tuna nigiri was our favorite.  We liked it so much we ordered a second serving. The tuna was melt in your mouth delicate and there was a very light seasoning that made the fish perfect.

Bamboo Sushi Rolls

The rolls were also very delicious.  I particularly enjoyed the soft shell crab roll.  The soft shell crab roll had the perfect combination of flavor and that soft shell crunch.  The philly roll was also very good.  I would have preferred a tad more salmon in it, nonetheless it was still good.

I really can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed Bamboo Sushi. Bamboo Sushi is now at the top of my list of favorite Sushi restaurants.  I highly recommend Bamboo Sushi.

The other great thing about Bamboo Sushi on NW 23rd is that Bamboo is right next to Salt and Straw.  Salt and Straw deserves a post on its own right, so I will just leave you with this.

Salt & Straw Ice Cream

Bamboo Sushi on Urbanspoon

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Fleet Week 2014 Starts Wednesday

To be honest, I am not a huge fan of the Rose Festival which started over memorial weekend.  That is why there wasn’t a post announcing the start of the festival last weekend.  The Rose Festival is essentially a carnival on the waterfront and a series of parades.  I have a hard time getting excited about that stuff.

Fleet Week is also a part of the Rose Festival but my attitude about Fleet Week is different. I like Fleet Week.  I like seeing all those ships docked along the river and touring them can be fun and informative.

Last year Fleet Week was a bit of a let down because the Navy cancelled their participation thanks to sequestration.  This year, however, the Navy returns which is good news.

One of my favorite activities, and if I didn’t have to work I would be doing this with the kids, is going to Cathedral Park and watching the ships sail in.

USS Ingraham

The Navy and the other ships generally do not announce their arrival schedule so timing this can be tricky.  However, there is a great website that makes this possible, Marine Traffic.  Ships will arrive between June 4th and 5th.  With this website you can search for ships by name and it will show you the ship’s last location.  I will also use Marine Traffic to watch ships on the Columbia river in real time as they sail into Portland.  Another helpful website is the Ship Report.  The Ship Report lists ships that are inbound and outbound from Astoria, which is the point of entry on the Columbia River.

Between these two website you can get a general idea of when the ships will be sailing past Cathedral Park.  Cathedral Park is in North Portland under the St. Johns Bridge.  The easiest way to get there is to take I-5 north, take the Rosa Parks exit west and stay on Rosa Parks.  Rosa Parks eventually turns into N. Willamette and N. Willamette will take you right under the bridge.  Pretty simple.  The park is one of my favorite’s in Portland.

Here is a list of ships that will be docked along the waterfront during Fleet Week.

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Five Amazing Alternatives To Portland’s Top Five Tourist Attractions

Ok, I don’t actually know if these are Portland’s top 5 tourist attractions but they sure do get talked about a lot.

5.  Voodoo Doughnuts

If there is one business in Portland that has come to exemplify the “Portlandia” image of Portland, it’s Voodoo.  I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  This place is the biggest tourist trap in Portland.  The donuts are good, but certainly not worth waiting in a line like this:

Alternative:  Blue Star Donuts

If you want the actual best donuts in town and not wait in line forever, only to find out they are cash only…try Blue Star.  You will not be disappointed.

4. Portland Saturday Market

I like the Saturday Market, however, is it really any different than any other saturday market in any other city?  A bunch of hippies get together to sell some arts and crafts.  It’s fun, but not that special.

Alternative:  Saturday Farmer’s Market at PSU

The Farmers Market is definitely overshadowed by the Saturday Market, but for me this has come to embody Portland more than the Saturday Market.  Portland has developed such a foodie culture and the Farmers Market reflects that.  The number of vendors there is nearly endless and they are all local.  Local meats, cheeses, breads, fruits, and vegetables.  You name it, if you can cook with it, you will probably find it.  If you wanted to have picnic at the zoo or any one of our great parks, this would be the place to shop.

3.  The Pearl

Yes, there are lots of great places to eat.  Yes, there are lots of great bars.  Yes, this place is overhyped.   The Pearl has a lot of great qualities but the artsy soulfulness of the Pearl that once exemplified Portland is gone.  It has been replaced by million dollar condos and overpriced restaurants and shops.

Alternative:  North Mississippi / North Williams

There are probably more great restaurants and bars packed between these two streets than anywhere else in Portland.  In the last 5 years this neighborhood has exploded.  I swear everytime I look around there is something new going in and it is not going to stop anytime soon.  The next big thing in this area will be when the City reduces the two lane road that is N. Williams down to one lane so bicyclists can have their own lane.  How very Portland.

2. International Rose Test Garden

Rose Garden

The Rose Garden is awesome, but it is small and during the summer it can get pretty overcrowded.  It can be nearly impossible to find parking and good luck getting a picture without some strangers in it.

Alternative: Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden 

Crystal Springs Rhododendron

Crystal Springs, is definitely a local’s spot.  You will not see that many tourists here.  The garden is big, is built around a man made lake, and is just as pretty, maybe more so, than the Rose Garden.

1. Powells City of Books

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Powell’s City of Books is awesome, it is so big you need a map. If you read, this place is a must.  As far books go, there is no alternative.  But what about those folks who are not big readers?  Well, if you are a movie fan then let me suggest a different experience.

Alternative:  Cinetopia

Unfortunately, you will have to make a trek out to the suburbs, but for the movie fan this is an unrivaled viewing experience.  You can even drink one of Portland’s delicious craft beers while watching the film.  You know this place is over the top (but in a good way) when they are going to be putting in a movie theater on the Las Vegas Strip.

 

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Portland Geography: Where The Heck Is The Pearl Anyway?

There are many qualities I love about Portland but one of my favorites is the distinctiveness of our neighborhoods.  At times it seems like each neighborhood is its own self contained little town.  There are a lot of great restaurants, breweries, cafes, and pubs, spread across Portland in a variety of different neighborhoods.  Because Portlanders love to talk about food this naturally leads to conversations like this:

“Hey, have you been to Escape from New York Pizza in Northwest”

“Yes I love it, have you tried Pine State in Alberta?”

As a visitor when you ask people for advice on places to eat, you will often get a response like “you should try ______ in the Pearl.”

The restaurant recommendation may be spot on but where the hell is the Pearl? For locals or frequent visitors when we hear “Alberta,” “Northwest,” “The Pearl,” etc… we know exactly what the person is talking about.  For example, Northwest is technically all of Portland west of the river and north of Burnside.  However, when us locals talk about Northwest we are referring to the neighborhood that encompasses the blocks around NW 23rd between Burnside and Vaughn.

If you are going to be visiting Portland it is important to know where a few key neighborhoods are.  These are the neighborhoods with the most popular restaurants, bars, breweries, and shopping.  For orientation purposes I will start with downtown.  For one, this is where most of you will likely be staying and, second, it is a good reference point.

DOWNTOWN

Downtown will most likely be your home base.  Since downtown also happens to be mostly commercial with lots of office towers and places that cater to the working stiffs, it is mostly dead at night and on weekends.  The exception would be around Pioneer Square, the mall, and on the north end close to Burnside.

Downtown

OLD TOWN / ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT

If you are into the clubbing thing, then this is where the action is.  Personally, I hate Old Town.  I can’t stand clubs, and sixth avenue in Old Town is known as crack alley amongst law enforcement because it is basically an open air drug market. But if you want to dance and party at the clubs, this is where it’s at.

Old Town

THE PEARL

Ahh, so this is where the Pearl is.  The Pearl used to be an old warehouse district west of Old Town.  Now it has turned into the definition of urban living in Portland.  It is home to Powell’s City of Books, great restaurants, bars, and shopping. The Pearl is a must visit.

The Pearl

NORTHWEST

Northwest is home to NW 23rd Street.  23rd is lined with great restaurants, bars, and shops.  There is a lot going on in this part of town plus a good hotel at the Inn at Northrup Station.  I would actually consider staying up here instead of downtown.

Northwest

HAWTHORNE

I love this part of town.  Hawthorne borders one of my favorite residential neighborhoods in Portland, Ladd’s Addition.  Hawthorne is home to great restaurants and is also known for its vintage shopping.  Even the Goodwill on Hawthorne is phenomenal.

Hawthorne

BELMONT

I often consider Belmont and Hawthorne to be one big awesome area in southeast Portland.  There is a lot going on between these two parts of town.  If bed and breakfasts or vacation rentals are more your style this area should be high on the list of options.

Belmont

SELLWOOD

I love this neighborhood.  If you come down here you will see what I mean when I say that neighborhoods feel like their own little towns (it helps that Sellwood use to actually be one). Sellwood is known for its antique shops that take up a block on Milwaukee and Bybee.

Sellwood

NORTH MISSISSIPPI

North Mississippi has really come of age in the last five years or so.  On the eastern side of this neighborhood is N. Williams which is currently exploding with new restaurants and bars.  I swear every time I drive up N. Williams I see a new bar or restaurant going in.

Mississippi

ALBERTA / ALBERTA ARTS DISTRICT

This neighborhood is home to Last Thursday a street fair on the last Thursday of every month.  The neighborhood is known for its eclectic shops and also, of course, good places to eat.

Alberta

When you visit, try to explore some the neighborhoods on the east side of the river.  You will get a much better feel for the character of the city, plus I think all the best restaurants and breweries are on that side of town anyway.

RELATED POSTS
Portland Geography 101: Navigation
Portland Geography 102: Portland Bridges
Portland Geography 103: Surrounding Areas

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Additional Thoughts On Priceline

So I wanted to take a minute and address a couple of comments that have come up on my Priceline posts and use them as learning opportunities.  The first comment is from Holly.

“I would NEVER use Priceline for a car. We did and when we got to Orlando airport the Hertz counter had a line two blocks long to pick up cars. We waited for 30 minutes and realized it would take longer to pick up the car than it did to fly to Orlando. We went to a neighboring car rental desk, rented a car (for more) and were on our way in a matter of minutes. Priceline “customer service” reads from a script and refuses to refund our money. I understand the no cancellation/refund policy but effectively Hertz could not provide us with a car. Hertz says they do not get paid unless we pick up the car so Priceline pockets the money and we pay twice. I have disputed the charge but will NEVER use Priceline again. Too many things can happen and their offshore customer service reps are like robots who have absolutely no authority to listen and respond (even the manager)… CRAZY…”    Continue reading

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The Trimet App, An Essential Portland App

A year ago Trimet launched a mobile app that allows you to purchase bus and MAX tickets on your phone.  This month the app sold its one millionth mobile fare, and for good reason. The app is super convenient and easy to use.   The app is much more convenient than the old way of doing business.  For the MAX, that meant buying tickets from a kiosk, if you were lucky to find one that worked.  For the bus, that meant buying a ticket from the bus operator but they only took exact change.  The app has made things soo much easier.  Continue reading

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