Sunday Drive: Rockaway Beach

This past Sunday, the weather reports showed a 0% chance of rain between Portland and the coast. Seemed like the perfect day to pack a picnic and head to the beach. 

…Until it rained the entire day. Literally, the whole day. When we saw a few drops coming down in the morning, we thought it would pass. Trying to be optimistic, we still hopped in our shiny, new car and headed west. Instead of spending the whole day at the beach like we originally planned, we detoured to the Tillamook Cheese Farm, where we watched the factory churning out that glorious cheese, in a (failed) attempt to wait for the rain to pass before driving along the damp coast…

Tillamook Tillamook Tillamook Oregon Coast Oregon Coast Oregon Coast Oregon Coast Oregon Coast Oregon Coast Oregon Coast Oregon CoastDespite the moody, almost spooky atmosphere, It was still really fun. And our shoes were a nice bright spot. 🙂


P.S. You can see our last Sunday drive here.


Sunday Drive: Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge, ORHey dudes. Guess what we finally checked out? (Here is a clue.)

Last week, Jaro and I decided to sieze the (sunny and temperate) day and drive out to the Columbia River Gorge. I have been wanting to see it since we moved, but we hadn’t found the chance until recently. While we didn’t get around to hiking, canoeing or visiting the little towns (Hood River, The Dalles, etc), we did sit back and enjoy a lovely Sunday drive.

Here you can see rolling hills of grape vines and Mount Hood in the distance…

Columbia River Gorge, OR

And here’s another cool shot of the Washington side…

Columbia River Gorge, OR

Not sure what was going on with the white balance of these photos, but you get the idea. So scenic and peaceful. We passed heaps of wineries and, at only an hour’s drive away from Portland, I know we’ll be making regular trips out there in the summer.


California Trip: Redwoods & Wineries

Happy Wednesday all! I’m feeling better and this week is looking up. Way up. Woo hoo!

So, yesterday I shared the coastal part of my trip to Cali, today is the next installment when we drove north from the bay. Our first stop was Guerneville, a somewhat remote town on the edge of some majestic redwood forests. It’s a tiny one-street “downtown”, perfect for stopping and stretching your legs.

Then we headed into the woods. We explored nearby Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. The thing about redwoods, if you didn’t know, is that they’re really tall. Like 300 feet tall. And they’re really old. Like 1,300 years old. This is what we saw as we walked among the giants…

Armstrong Redwoods

Armstrong RedwoodsArmstrong Redwoods

Pictures really don’t do them justice. They be huge. And reserve itself is really nice and close enough to the bay that you can get your redwood fill without having to drive four hours up to the national park. (Though I still want to visit there sometime.)

After a morning “hike” through the reserve, we obviously needed refreshments and headed into wine country. Not far away in the Russian River Valley, was a stretch of small, adorable wineries along a country road called Westside. We stopped at Matrix (which does not distribute) and tried maybe 8-10 wines for only 5 bucks! Try finding that kind of deal over in Napa. Traveler Tip: Want to experience the vineyards without all the hype (or the traffic)? Check out the options in the Russian River Valley. They are much more low key. I definitely suggest it to fellow wine lovers out there!

After that grueling morning, we realized we were becoming hangry. So we drove over to Calistoga, a sweet town at the north end of the Napa county, for lunch. Stopped into Checkers for some hearty salads and then continued merrily on our way down the Silverado Trail through all those lovely vineyards. Traveler Tip: The Silverado Trail runs parallel to the main drag through Napa, Route 29, but is much less congested. Highly recommend if you just want to drive through Napa and take in the scenery, but not necessarily visit the heavy hitters like Sterling or Robert Modavi (you’d have to get on 29 for them). These were our views…

Napa Valley, California

Napa Valley, CaliforniaWe finished out the day in Sonoma. Traveler Tip: Sonoma is the underdog of Napa Valley. Don’t get me wrong, I love the glamour of Napa and Yountville from my last visit, but with that comes higher prices and more people. This was a different experience and maybe that’s because of the time of year too. February isn’t as hot a ticket as September. I guess I’ll have to go back again to be sure. Anyway, it took a bit of effort to climb over the ridge to get to Sonoma, but it was so worth it. I’m definitely making it a priority the next time I’m in the valley. Such a pretty town, with a cute main square and lots of little boutiques and wine bars. I only managed to get this shot of the sunset over the trees…

Sonoma, California

The sky looked like, I don’t know, cotton candy? Not that I’d ever eat it, but it’s pretty.

Another great day in California comes to an end. Still more to share about our adventuring in Oakland and San Francisco. Coming soon…


California Trip: Route 1

Hey friends. It’s safe to say that I’m in love with California. It’s the state that has it all. Dramatic coastlines, sandy beaches, rugged mountains, charming vineyards, towering redwood forests, sophisticated cities, the SUN, and so much more. What a spoiled state. (One could say that Oregon has these things, but the weather being what it is, I haven’t experienced them, so hmph.)

For one day, we drove south from Oakland on Route 1, otherwise known as the Cabrillo Highway. We occasionally pulled over to take in views like this… California

strolled along the coast through Monterey and Pacific Grove after a huge meal at Cannery Row Brewing Company

Monterey, California

detoured to do the famous 17 Mile Drive, which includes Spanish Bay…

Spanish Bay, California

Spanish Bay, California

Point Joe…
Pacific Grove, California


and the gorgeous Fanshell Cove…
Fanshell Cove, California

Then we came upon The Lone Cypress, landmark of the Pebble Beach Golf Club…

The Lone Cypress, California

And played under this pier…

Pebble Beach Golf Club, California

Before heading back home, we drove through part of Big Sur (which is lovely, but we never found a good spot to pull over for pics on those twisty roads) at sunset.

I highly recommend this drive; it is so scenic. Even the 17 Mile Drive, which costs 10 bucks just to enter, is totally worth it. The beauty in this route is that it can be done any time of year. You are guaranteed incredible views. We experienced some strong wind, but the sunshine was plentiful and the skies were clear. Traveler Tip: In some stretches, towns are few and far between, so fill up your tank and bring snacks. No one likes a hangry passenger.

Stay tuned for more Cali adventures…


Oktoberfest in München

You guys! This is the last post about our big road trip and I’m going to keep it short. After a quick stop in Salzburg, we made it to München for the celebrated and highly anticipated Oktoberfest. So what’s the verdict?

(You might need to click the pic to see the movement, I’ll look into it later.)

Yep! It was awesome! I had no idea what to expect, not one clue. All I knew is that you drink beer. So what happened? We arrived at a very “Oktoberfest friendly” campground that made me feel like we were back at a college dorm. Lots of young people (most wearing lederhosen and barmaid outfits), and most of them drunk at 11am. Tents were practically on top of each other in a huge open space. We secured a spot and split. Took the bus and metro into the city like everyone else and were told to just “follow the drunks.” Not kidding! We get there and can see the massive stream of people heading in the same direction, so we jammed ourselves in it.

Arriving at “Oktoberfest” was weirdly familiar. It was exactly like a state fair. (Is that just a Midwest thing?) Huge fairgrounds filled with arcades, food stalls, carnival rides, the works. The only difference was that every few meters there was a giant beer tent, filled with hundreds (thousands?) of screaming, chanting, chugging, glass-clinking revelers.

We tried to play it smart. Ate some sausages to prepare our bodies, then headed toward the mecca tent – Hofbräuhaus. Feeling like we needed a warm up before going inside the roaring tent, we sat in the beer garden and each slammed our first liter of beer and, of course, German bread (aka: a pretzel, duh). Feeling pretty darn great after that, we headed into the tent.

Inside is massive. There is a elevated stage with live music at one end and there had to be thousands of people filling every corner. There are areas for people with reservations and areas for those without (aka: us). We slid into some vacant spots at a stand-up table and ordered our second liters…

The rest is kind of a blur.  We were in there for hours, cheering people on as they tried to chug entire liters, booing them when they didn’t. Shared even more beers. Had a giant plate of wiener schnitzel. More giant pretzels. Stumbled out of the tent to see what else there was. Rode two carnival rides that spin you around and whirl you upside down… Somehow didn’t get sick (or die). Ate pizza, more sausage, and frites covered in sauerkraut.

The best thing about Oktoberfest? Everyone you see is from all over the world and just there to have a good time. We met everyone at our table; some from the States, the rest from Australia. Everyone was happy, relaxed and having fun. What could be better? Check out my video (starting at the 2:44 mark) to see the evidence. We had a great time.

We somehow managed to find our way back to the campsite that night and I even… tried to READ. We bring our iPads along for such time passage. Well, I passed out fell asleep with it next to me. Of course it rained that night. Of course it got in the tent. And that’s the little story of how I’m on my third iPad is just over a year. So there’s that.

Bonus: We earned ourselves a hearty McDonald’s breakfast the next morning. Americans: McDonald’s breakfast over here is not to be taken lightly. The McCafe is where it’s at.


Road trip: Slovenia and Austria

Happy Friday, everyone! We’re slowly, but surely getting to the end of this road trip recap. After two nights in Croatia, we headed north (in the home stretch of our trip now) to Lake Bled, Slovenia. We had ooh’ed and aah’ed at pictures of it and knew if there was one place in Slovenia that we had to go, it was there. Conveniently, it was on the route home too.

Again, the roads were longer than we thought. As we finally approached, limbs aching from sitting in the car most of the day, we were reading about places to stay in Bled. Found one that sounded fantastic and decided to treat ourselves to hotel night #2 of this journey. Thank GOD. When we arrived in Bled after dark, it was pouring rain. Julie + pouring rain + camping do not mix well.

Woke up the next morning to beautiful views from our balcony. After a lazy morning in the sauna and pool, we ventured out. Bled is one of the most serene, calming places I’ve ever been. Stressed out? Go to Bled. Seriously. It was so quiet and enchanting to walk around the lake (there is a trail around the whole thing, we did maybe a quarter). Realizing it was already after noon, we stopped for lunch in town at a sweet pub for some grilled meats, bread dumplings and mayyybe even some cheese dumplings. Heaven.

Got on the road to Salzburg, home to Mozart and The Sound of Music, which was supposed to take two hours. It took over FIVE. There was constant construction, in almost every tunnel. Have I mentioned that some of the driving tunnels through the Alps are over 7000 meters long? Cray. Anyway, it was so bad that Jaro, the patient driver, could get out of the car and walk around. People were even walking their dogs! I tried to take a nap.

Again, got into town after dark. But what a pretty town! Salzburg looked so wonderful from our limited strolling. And the food was delicious. Went to the Zipfer Beirhaus and chowed down on seasonal treats like pumpkin soup and wild boar ragu. Shared a massive table with hilarious traveling Australians and enjoyed the night. Verdict? Definitely need to go back to Salzburg. Maybe combine it with a second trip to Vienna in the winter (Went to Vienna this summer. Sweltering).

Here be the pics:

Last stop: Oktoberfest in Munchen.


P.S. Trying Lion Noir tonight with friends. Can’t wait!

Road trip: Italian Escapades

It’s no secret that we love Italy. Having been there four times in the past two years might be a non-subtle clue. Everything from the landscape, to the food, to the culture is just a breath of fresh air, especially after cringing through three nights in Switzerland. We had originally (as in two days prior) been thinking about zooming through Italy to Croatia and Slovenia, but then checked ourselves. How could we drive right past Verona and Venice?

Getting through the mountains (driving stick – go me!) took way longer than we thought so we didn’t cross the border until sunset. Grabbing the trusty old GPS, we punched in “campsites near Verona” and hoped for the best. It ended up being a fantastic surprise! We arrived after the office closed, but the night guard was ready for us (thanks to calling ahead) and as we pulled up, he said, “Zijn jullie Nederlanders?” He was Dutch! Since our phone has a Dutch number and our license plate too, he assumed we were Dutch. Close enough. 😉 It was so comforting and pleasant to talk with him about life in Holland and how he decided to move to Italy (jealous).

We spent the next morning in Verona and what a cutie town. They have adorable shopping streets & markets and just general Italian loveliness. It’s also the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, so there is a romantical quality as well. Felt it. We had heard that if you love Italy, but don’t need blockbuster sights, then Verona is a great fit. It was.

Unfortunately, since it is a small town and I knew Venice was a mere hour away, my anxiety kicked in and we scrambled over to check out our next destination. Sidenote: I read somewhere recently that Midwesterners (that’s me) often use driving time to measure distance between two places. {i.e. How far away is that city? Oh, about an hour.} I think it’s true! Anyway, we got to a VERY nice campsite (seriously, spa-quality bathrooms), got all our stuff set up and took a public bus into the city. Hey, when you are traveling on a dime, that doesn’t bother you at all. In fact, you feel more like you are having a local experience than if you just pull up in a taxi or park in the garage on the island. So we got to the island, started walking down a street and IMMEDIATELY were lost. Within a few minutes. It must have been some kind of record. Couldn’t even figure out where we were on a map. It’s so disorienting, but also awesome. All the little streets, lined with crumbling, chipped-paint facades, twist and wind over and under each other and those teeny canals. Elegant decay, indeed. And no cars, of course. Some of the streets were as wide as my body.

I have to harp on Venice, however. While I loved sipping wine at Al Merca and Aperol spritz along the Grand Canal, enjoyed hearty ragu at a tiny candle-lit bistro and noticed the canals do not smell like I was warned… there was a certain inauthenticity to it. From what I saw in the two days we spent there, the entire city catered to tourists. Every street had a heavy current of visitors navigating through. Huge signs point you to SAINT MARK’S SQUARE ==>. (Got it.) Every menu had 10 language translations, even those we “discovered” without the aid of a guidebook. So. I need to go back and explore the far corners for something that feels legit. You get where I’m coming from, right? Travel is supposed to take us out of our comfort zones, even just a little bit. Isn’t that the point? Maybe I’m becoming desensitized to it, but THAT is a discussion for another day.

We happened to celebrate our five year dating anniversary there. Our “date-iversary” if you will. (Yeah, we still do that even though we’re married, roll your eyes.) It was a little coincidental because our first date was at Carmine’s, an Italian restaurant in Chicago. I mean… it was fate.

Anyway, here are some pics:

Up next: Northern Croatia


Road trip: Swiss Hits and (mostly) Misses

See what I did there? Switzerland was, overall, a big miss in my book. But let me explain…

After driving through the Alsace, we realized we were pretty close to Basel, Switzerland and decided to check another new country off our list. As we crossed the border, we were stopped. Customs check, right? Passports, car insurance, etc? Nope. Just needed to hand over €40 for a highway sticker. Just to drive on the roads. And thus began our expensive journey through Switzerland.

The thing is, I don’t mind paying good money (whatever that means) when something is worth it. The problem with Switzerland is that I felt the value of what I was getting was far, far less than the money I was paying for it. Commercialism there is, quite franc-ly, a huge rip off. One hundred and fifty Swiss Francs for a musty hotel room in a nondescript town with sheets that look like they’d been there since the 70’s? Forty Francs for a 6-pack of beer, and a few vegetables for a campsite dinner? How about thirty Francs for one portion of fondue (melted cheese and cut up raw vegetables) at a touristic “chalet”? What about four Francs for a small beer? Same for a plain, filter coffee. Or my favorite, how about paying 70 Francs for a “thermal bath” experience at Thermal Centre Yverdon-Les-Bains, only to find out it’s for the geriatric set and we were the only couple there for leisure purposes (everyone else appeared to need rehabilitation)? Here is the misleading website. That wins for most awkward morning of the trip, especially since the saunas were co-ed and nudity “encouraged.” Reminder: We were the only people under the age of 70. …No Francs. Get it? Additionally, the camping throughout Switzerland was the worst we experienced throughout the two weeks. Campsites were poorly equipped and terribly located; One night we were directly next to a loud highway and the other we were quite literally in someone’s backyard. Unbelievable, disappointing, and downright pitiful for a country that claims to be the greatest outdoor experience on earth.

Now, Switzerland does have its charms. Gorgeous, dramatic scenery is around every curve of the road. Cities like Bern (lovely, despite the strange Bear Park), lakefront towns like Montreux & Lucerne (the lakes are stunningly beautiful) and tiny villages like Gruyere (most fake real place I’ve ever seen) are all very pleasant to look at and stroll around. Matterhorn? Eiger? The Aletsch Glacier? (which cost 80 Francs to see). Mother Nature at her finest, certainly. And, it’s one of the best places to master manual driving (as I did, woo hoo!).

We stayed a night at La Tour-de-Peilz on Lake Geneva (next to the highway), another in Interlaken (in someone’s backyard- good morning!), and a third in no-big-deal Sarnen (the scary hotel room). The hotel was, franc-ly (hah), out of desperation as we booked it around 9pm and we didn’t want to camp in heavy rain. Because of the ridiculous expensiveness, we didn’t have a single meal in a restaurant. Unless you count Tak Rai, a Thai take out place in Lucerne that somehow earned a good review on Lonely Planet. For microwave-sized portions, our “cheap” take out dinner for two was 39 Francs. …No Francs.

Still glad we went. Just not sure if I’ll be returning anytime soon. I sort of hate it. Here are some pics that might convince you it’s worth it.

Ahead: Paragliding in Interlaken. That adventure needs its own post.


Road trip: Route des Vins D’Alsace

I’m going to start this post with the assumption that everyone reading it (love you) has seen Disney’s Beauty & the Beast. We all know the opening scene where Belle walks through her town singing, “There must be more than this provincial life” and neighbors pop out of their shuttered windows singing, “Bonjour! Bonjour!” I know, you are all singing it.

I found that town. You’ll see in the pics.

After a brief visit to the Lorraine region, we traveled down to the Alsace region. With a little research (ie: reading travel guides in the car), we learned that there is a wine road that stretches through the region called the Route des Vins. It’s 170km long! That’s a lot of wine. Had to control ourselves and only drink at night when we were done driving for the day. So hard! We started from Marlenheim at the north end and weaved through the rolling hills of absolutely breathtaking wine country (The French win) to Colmar. That is not the entire route, but we had to move on. We easily could have spent the full two weeks here. Main stops were Obernai, Ribeauville, Riquewihr (Belle’s town, I swear!) and Colmar. Just lovely. Like a fairytale. I have few other words to describe it, hopefully the pictures do it justice.

One thing about the local food: We had a delicious lunch in Obernai at La Cloche‘s charming sideway patio. Have you ever heard of a Kentucky dish called a Hot Brown? Jaro has suffered through one before, and similarly, I should probably tell warn you that spatzle baked in munster cheese is the best worst decision of your life. Read: a French Hot Brown. Both the spatzle and munster are local specialties, so we considered that to be the megatron of Alsatian cuisine and as a result, we were all over it. While Jaro clogged his arteries with that, I had the not so much more reasonable spatzle with mushroom sauce. Could not get enough spatzle. Anyway, here are a few pics.

One other thing about food: This was my first extended time in France outside of Paris and something I immediately noticed was that everyone was carrying a baguette (or three). Under the arm, while riding a bicycle, poking out of the windows in their cars… so just plant that pleasant little image in your head. (Again, the French win.) But good luck trying to buy one after noon. Every shop, grocery, market, you name it, was sold out by then. Thankfully, our campsites sold them fresh every morning. Yep, that’s right.

So, I love France. Is that obvious?

Ahead: The Swiss Alps & why I hate Switzerland…


Road trip: The French Lorraine region

I’m so excited to share this trip with you. It’s different from any trip we’ve taken. As you saw from the post yesterday, we just went on a impromptu road trip through Europe. And as you saw, we were very ambitious. In fact, I wish there was a stronger word for ambitious. Oh wait, there is: CRAZY.

Once everything was settled with our decision to move to Sweden, we thought we should seize the day two weeks and just explore wherever we felt like pointing the car. With our tent (yes, a tent!), a pile of travel guides and open minds, we set out from Amsterdam… and immediately hit traffic in Belgium. And it was raining. Hooray.

Our first stop was Luxembourg, where one of my besties studied abroad. Since it was raining and since we were super delayed from the congestion around Brussels, we were there for about 20 minutes. Looked pretty though.

We got back in the car and headed to the Lorraine region of France, southeast of Champagne. We visited Verdun where there is a ton of WWI history, including the largest US military cemetery in Europe. I have a thing about visiting cemeteries. I find them so fascinating.

Next, we headed to Metz, which has a similar feel to Strasbourg, with wide canals and beautiful Parisian architecture. Loved both. So charming and friendly. In Metz, Soupes a’ Soups was perfect. We had a lovely lunch there and I promised our adorable server we’d come back someday. Also, the French countryside wins. It’s the best in the world, I’m convinced. Hope you enjoy the pics.

Ahead: The French D’Alsace Route des Vins.