Gone Coastal: Relaxing Reunion in Oregon

Gone Coastal: Relaxing Reunion in Oregon

For someone who had never even been to Oregon a mere 3 years ago, I sure am making up for lost time! And a lot of that has to do with the relocation of my awesome cousin Jordan and his wife Emily. They moved from Kansas to Portland a year ago and I’ve already been down twice. But, something I’ve been dying to do for years is spend some time on the famed Oregon Coast.

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So, I hatched up a reunion scheme involving an adorable cottage rental in Gearhart and a crew of Canadian cousins ready to road trip. In the end we were seven 20-somethings and a dog enjoying lazy days at the beach and cozy night of Cards Against Humanity. We ate A LOT of good food, played games, flew kites, drank beer, and enjoyed the laid back life that we love in the Pacific Northwest.

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We even had an unexpected surprise on our morning walk to the beach one day. As we approached the path between the town and the beach, we noticed some large creatures in the tall grass. It turns out that a herd of approximately 50-60 elk had decided to hang out beside our beach. Initially terrified but soon excited as locals assured us that it was safe to continue. We proceeded to pass by these majestic creatures, completely awe-struck. It was one of those magical encounters with nature that I will always remember.

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Move over #selfie because we prefer the #elkie

Move over #selfie because we prefer the #elkie

Since we could walk to the local beach in Gearhart – we didn’t stray too far from our little home away from home. But, we did make one excursion to nearby Ecola State Park in Canon Beach. The view point gave us a stunning back drop for some long overdue family photos. And the beach, mostly deserted, and stretching on like glass, made for a very chill afternoon.

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Cousins – me and the boys!

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Typically on a short trip like this, I would try to pack in a lot of activities. Especially when I’ve had my eye on the coast for such a long time. But, for this long weekend I left things unscheduled and gave myself permission to just relax. Maybe it’s part of getting older. Or maybe it is the craziness of my home life right now (flooded apartments are no joke…eek!). But a weekend away with good people and no plans was exactly what the doctor ordered. And let’s get real… we all know I’ll be back.

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A Sweet Summer Preview in Portlandia

A Sweet Summer Preview in Portlandia

I almost feel bad sharing this next post because while the Northeast is still drowning in wave after wave of snow, the Pacific Northwest is enjoying a super early spring (even for us). It honestly feels like summer is just around the corner and this past weekend I got a sneak peak of what that looks like on my second ever trip to Portland, Oregon.

When I dream about summer (which is fairly constant), I picture leisurely strolls through Farmer’s Markets, blissful naps in sunny parks, and eating as much ice cream as physically possible! I realize that summer isn’t a requirement for any of these activities, but a blue sky backdrop and the smell of flowering trees really enhances the experience in my opinion. And we know that my opinion of Portland was due for some enhancing.

Last time I visited the City of Roses, I left feeling a bit underwhelmed. Portland had fallen victim to a classic case of over-hype. My expectations were sky high after the onslaught of 5 star reviews I’d heard from every friend, neighbour, and stranger in my vicinity. They made Portland sound more like Shangri-La than a cool hipster hangout. So even though I had a perfectly nice visit, I wasn’t hiring a marching band to proclaim any rose-coloured declarations.

But, I knew that Portland had something going on that I hadn’t quite fully tapped into yet… so I did what I do and I came back! Apparently the city had caught wind of my last blog post and decided to pull out all the stops for my second trip complete with clear blue skies, 18-degree temperatures (in March!!) and a visit from my travel bestie Megan. I was in for a guaranteed good time!

Washington Park & the Japanese Garden

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Megan and I are a tad obsessed with parks and so I knew that our first stop had to be Washington Park. Even though the famous Rose Garden wasn’t blooming, the Japanese Garden was a lovely placeholder. Beautifully manicured grounds, a miniature pagoda, weeping cherry trees,  a tea house, and even a koi pond! I felt like I had been transported to Japan… and immediately started scheming my next Asian excursion.

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Salt & Straw

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Portlandia takes absolutely everything to the next level. So I’m not sure why I was surprised to find a line wrapped around the corner at 3:00pm on a Friday in March… for ice cream. True, it was a beautiful day, but don’t these people have jobs?! Anyways, back to what has to be the most mind-blowing ice cream experience that I’ve ever had. Salt & Straw is to ice cream what Ritz-Carlton is to hotels. Not only does it deliver unique handmade flavours that taste delicious, but the customer experience is like being at a fancy wine tasting. We had our own private server who took the time to get to know us and let us taste as many of the flavours as we wanted. He told us about each flavour and what we could expect. We were even served with REAL metal spoons. The most interesting flavour I tried was undoubtedly the Lumberjack Stacka seasonal flavour that combines maple syrup from a small farm in Vermont with real chunks of sweet, fluffy, blueberry pancakes! “You HAVE to try this!” I pleaded to Megan who was busy sampling Cinnamon Snickerdoodle. In the end I settled on Coconut with Petunia’s Salted Caramel Bars – a coconut based, non-dairy ice cream with hand-burned caramel and housemade chocolate ganache and salted caramel bars mixed in. And yes, I do realize that I just wrote an entire paragraph in a travel blog about ice cream.

My wrist is my best feature ;)

My wrist is my best feature ;)

Portland Farmers Market

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Saturday mornings were made for Farmers Markets and we were lucky enough to be in town for the first Saturday of the expanded two-block Farmers Market at PSU with easily over 100 vendors in attendance. We spent the better part of two hours sampling everything from cheese and vegan nut butters to hard cider and gourmet cookies. I practically ate a full breakfast before my breakfast.

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Blue Star Donuts

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I’m not usually someone who makes a big deal about donuts but when in Portland… Voodoo Donuts tends to get the majority of the fanfare resulting in lineups that make Disneyland queues look insignificant. So for the second time I opted to hit up Blue Star Donuts instead. From what I’ve heard, Blue Star actually beats Voodoo in taste, although I still think Cartems in Vancouver, BC has the best tasting donuts around. I’ll do the official comparison someday but for now my mouth was satisfied by the much adored Maple Bacon Donut.

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Sunday Brunch at Broder

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Brunch is practically a religious activity in Portland and if you’ve seen the Portlandia episode “Brunch Village” then you’ll know what I’m talking about. We decided to get up early to beat the crowds and try out the Swedish restaurant Broder. I can’t say that I’ve ever tried Swedish food before so this was a completely unique dining experience with dishes like Aebelskivers and Smørrebrød. The ambience was really cool (we ate inside a wooden pod) and our server looked like Jared Leto so I was sold even before my delicious baked eggs and smashed potatoes arrived!

Waterfront Park

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And no sunny Sunday would be complete without a leisurely stroll in some beautiful outdoor space. Personally I will always prefer the ocean but a nice lake front or river walk can certainly fill the void in a pinch. Portland’s Waterfront Park along the Willamette River did just that providing beautiful views of the downtown skyline and the city’s many bridges. We even found a bustling open air market to wander through while sipping our Stumptown coffee.

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As it turns out, I am quite the fair-weather traveller. All it took was a sun-filled summery weekend for Portland to start winning me over in a big way. A huge thank you to my cousins Jordan & Emily (and their friends) for hosting me once again and showing me a fantastic time. We know I’ll be back again soon.

2014: A Year in Review

2014: A Year in Review

W h a t.  A.  Y e a r !  I can’t believe that it’s actually time to say goodbye to 2014 and what has been my best travel year since 2006. I somehow managed to squeeze 18 trips into the past 12 months and I did it all while holding down a full-time office job. That’s right people… you CAN travel the world without quitting your day job. To celebrate the end of an absolutely incredible year, here’s a review of my 2014 travel adventures.

1. New Orleans (January)

I began 2014 with a bang and a kiss (teehee) while watching fireworks over the Mississippi River in New Orleans! This is definitely one for the record books and redeemed a holiday that I had pretty much given up on. Now it’s my new mission to celebrate NYE in a new city every year! photo-3 2. Victoria (February)

One of many weekend trips to Vancouver Island to visit my best friend (guest blogger Katie Smith) – it was cold. So cold that the fountains in front of parliament froze over. You don’t see that everyday.

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A less cold weekend back in Victoria to visit same friend… yeah, I’m awesome that way ;)

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4. Lake Whatcom (April)

Only the single best girls weekend ever! Okay, that might have been the wine talking but seriously, we had a great time checking out the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and relaxing by a very lovely lake.  IMG_0652 5. Winnipeg (May)

At long last, I made my first trip back to Winnipeg in nearly four years. I used to go all the time (to visit family) but with domestic flight prices soaring, it’s a rare occurrence these days. Lucky for me I have connections and when my WestJetter friend hooked me up with 40% off – I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to catch my dear cousin (the actress!) on closing night of her musical. IMG_0932 6. Las Vegas (May)

VEGAS BABY!! Okay, so maybe my long weekend in Sin City wasn’t exactly what movies are made about… but it was fun! I hadn’t been since I was a teenager so the adult version was a whole new experience. IMG_0829 7. Vietnam (June)

My first trip to Asia and I chose Vietnam (by way of China) and decided to go all by myself too. Well, I didn’t end up being alone for long as I made a lot of great friends on the road. Two weeks went by all too fast as I sweat (holy hot batman!) my way up the coast enjoying beautiful beaches, amazing food, and fascinating cities. IMG_1144 8. Lac Le Jeune (July)

My first (real) camping trip was a roaring success! My expert camper friends planned a perfect two days in the Central Interior where we basically just lazed around the lake and ate. Summer in BC = Bliss! Lac Le Jeune 9. Kelowna (August)

Last year’s annual mother/daughter(s) weekend took us to Whistler Village where my sister-in-law and I took the plunge by bungee jumping for our first times. This year we headed to wine country for a perfect weekend of boating, drinking, touring… basically living the good life! IMG_1616 10. Whistler (August)

When my friend Katie casually mentioned that she’d never been to Whistler before, I hung up on her and called a hotel immediately. Whistler is an annual summer retreat for me and I’ve been at least 15 times. So, I was thrilled to show off this little resort town and all of the off-season activities it has to offer. IMG_1801 11. Tofino (August)

This trip! The trip that I never thought was actually going to happen. First we were going to Alaska. Then we were going to Hawaii. Then we ditched the idea completely. Then we were back to Alaska. But, by the end of it all, we settled on Tofino/Ucluelet for our first family vacation since 2007.

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12. Sunshine Coast (September)

When my friend Kendra got a job in the seaside town of Gibsons, I knew that it was finally  time to take a trip to the beautiful Sunshine Coast. We spent a perfect final weekend of summer driving up the coast and feasting our eyes on the impressive Skookumchuck Narrows!

Sechelt, Sunshine Coast

Sechelt, Sunshine Coast

13. Prince George (September)

Not the most glamourous destination on the list but it was travel and a new city. This work trip took me the furthest north that I’ve ever been in Canada and I got to squeeze in a quick visit with my friend Mel. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised to find impressive old growth forests nearby and a lot more activity than I would have initially guessed in such a remote community. This really is Beautiful British Columbia from top to bottom.IMG_2156 14. Boston (November)

One of my favourite benefits of traveling is the great people you meet along the way. Megan and I became fast friends while visiting Vietnam earlier this year and we were already googling flight prices between Vancouver and Boston before we even went our separate ways. I knew right away that I wanted to see New England in the autumn and I lucked out with an absolutely glorious weekend of blue skies and radiant fall colours. The Northeast is definitely a region I am eager to explore in more depth.IMG_2484 15. Seattle (November)

A frequent stomping ground for concerts, shopping trips, cruise departures, and cheap flights over the years, Seattle has become a second home in many ways. And now, with my family’s recent obsession with the Seattle Seahawks, we have more excuses to go and more love than ever for our sister city on the West Coast.  IMG_2506 16. Victoria again (November)

Back to Vancouver Island again… this time for some pre-Christmas festivities in sub-zero temperatures. Note to self… start visiting in summer from now on. Brr…

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17. Portland (December)

When I found out that my cousin Jordan and his wife Emily were moving from the mid-West to the weirdest coolest city in America… I couldn’t start scheming fast enough. One weekend was barely enough time to get a taste of what the city has to offer so expect many more adventures in Oregon in the months and years to come!

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18. Lisbon (December)

When the office shuts down over the holidays, why not celebrate in… P O R T U G A L ! This quick Euro trip reunites me (once again!!) with my Boston Bestie, Megan. We are spending the final four days of 2014 in beautiful Lisbon… and the travels don’t stop there! Follow my adventures into 2015 and see how (and where!) I ring in the new year!

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2014 By the Numbers:

Countries Visited: 3 (2 new ones): USA / VietnamPortugal

States Visited: 5 (2 new ones): Louisiana / Washington / Nevada / Massachusetts / Oregon

Plane Rides Taken: 12 (I count a flight as a flight regardless of how many segments or layovers it has). Of those flights, four were heavily discounted by family/friend discounts, two were paid for by work, two were almost covered entirely by points, and the remaining four inspire me to keep looking for great deals.

Other Modes of Transportation: 10 ferries, 3 overnight trains, 3 buses (long-haul), 1 motorcycle, and more vehicles than I care to count.

Airports Visited: 16 (YVR, MSY, SEA, YWG, YXS, LAX, BOS, AMS, LIS, BCN, BLI, LAS, CAN, SGN, HAN, MCI)

Beds Slept In: 26. Of those, 10 were hotels, 7 were crashing with family or friends, 3 were sleeper trains,  2 were house rentals, one was an Airbnb apartment rental, one was a bed & breakfast, one was a tent, and one was my own bed!

The Truth about Portland: Is it really that cool?

The Truth about Portland: Is it really that cool?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve likely heard of a little city in the great state of Oregon called Portland. Not to be confused with the other Portland (Maine)… this Portland has grown to fame over the last decade thanks in part to the satirical sketch comedy show, Portlandia, that pokes fun at life in the coolest city in America. I’ve been curious about this place for many years now, especially after countless Where Should you live quizzes proclaimed PORTLAND as the perfect place for me. With it’s coffee and craft beer obsession, and nary a negative comment to be heard from my friends, I was falling for the hype.

When my cousin and his wife recently decided to move there… I knew it was finally time for a visit. So this past weekend I road tripped 5 hours down the I-5 to discover the city for myself. I needed to know if the TV depiction of a crunchy, fussy, foodie mecca where “young people go to retire” was real.

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What I found was mostly what I expected. Great Dining options. Abundant locally produced coffee. A religious bike culture. Breweries on every corner. And Powell’s – a four story book store every bit as heavenly as I’d hoped.

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So why did I leave this city feeling a little bit meh? I love coffee. I love beer. I love books. I love tax free shopping. And I definitely love a walkable city. On paper it is perfect for me. But in person, it was missing that je ne sais quoi. Maybe I’m not cool enough for Portland? Scratch that… I KNOW I’m not cool enough for Portland. I like to try on the alternative lifestyle every once in a while  but in many ways I’ve graduated from the “young, carefree” attitude that seems compulsory to fit in here. And I’m way too cheap to look the part.

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Don’t get me wrong. I had a super fun weekend and I will definitely be back. My hosts couldn’t have been more lovely and I know that I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the city has to offer.

But I think the main issue here is that living in Vancouver has spoiled me. I can’t quite imagine trading in the Vancouver skyline with its mountain backdrop and ocean views for the industrial edge of Portland. Where Vancouver is cosmopolitan and culturally diverse, Portland feels distinctly less urban. Vancouver is undeniably impressive and demands attention. It has an obvious beauty that has locals acting like tourists in their own city on a regular basis.

In contrast, Portland is a subtle charmer. That must be why residents love it so much. It’s an insider’s city where the pleasure is in the everyday. It’s about knowing the best bar in the neighbourhood and the right time to get Sunday brunch before the quiche runs out.

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I am curious to see how Portland changes and evolves over the years. Will it drown in stereotypes or will it thrive under the influence of its free thinking locals? I sure hope it is the latter because Portland has definitely got something going on… I just haven’t figured it all out yet.

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No Tax on the Oregon Trail

On July 14, 2012 my baby brother married the love of his life, my new sister, Faith. And… lucky for me, they chose to get married in Faith’s hometown of Salem, Oregon. This historic capital city is full of culture and beauty, the perfect setting for this multi-cultural couple to exchange vows. During my time in Oregon I got to wander the city and enjoy the rolling vineyards waiting just outside the downtown core. Oh yeah, and the tax-free shopping didn’t hurt either :)

Faith's family farm - Salem, Oregon

Faith’s family farm – Salem, Oregon

Colin & Faith

Colin & Faith

Siblings

Siblings