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.

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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.

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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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