On the National Park Closures

In light of the recent tantrums being thrown in Washington, I thought I’d share my thoughts on how the behavior of our government is affecting travel, something I am obviously very passionate about. This is not a political post and I’m not opening a debate about whether or not this shutdown is right or wrong. That’s not the point of my writing. I am simply speaking to one of the results of this mess.

As you probably know, all U.S. National Parks are CLOSED until this government shutdown shuts up. I’m very disappointed that one of the consequences of all the squabbling is taking something away, not only from the American people, but also other visitors who may have planned for years to come and see an extraordinary piece of the world that the United States is fortunate enough to possess.

Think about it. School kids have been forced to cancel their field trips. Excited campers that reserved all the gear, researched the trails, bought plane tickets, have been forced to cancel their plans. This makes me sad. A great experience is being revoked, or at the very least, put on hold.

One of my many bucket list items (I don’t really have a bucket list because I find that even an infinite list is limiting), is to visit all 59 National Parks. Today, I feel so lucky to have crossed off as many as I have, which is only eight. The National Parks are special places. Treasures. Here are some of my favorite pictures from over the years….

Redwoods National Park

Redwood National Park

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park

I also have been to Haleakala in Hawaii, but no digital pictures back in 1999!

What do you think? Can I make it to all 59? Do you share the same goal to visit them all? I’m especially gung ho for American Samoa out in the South Pacific. Maybe we should have gone there instead of Fiji for our honeymoon. …Nah. Our honeymoon was perfect.

Here’s hoping that they’ll reopen soon.

xxx

P.S. My post about Acadia. And Redwood. And Everglades.

 

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A Visitor’s Guide to Chicago

Chicago, IL

I recently gave some advice to a foreign friend visiting Chicago. And I’m visiting there soon! I thought it would be fun to turn it into a blog post because I’m so proud of my hometown and would love to share my two cents about what to do there. In order to keep this from getting too out of control, I limited each category to my top 10 recommendations. It was so hard. Chicago has so much to offer! Here we go…

Sights Chicago is a world class city filled to the brim with cultural experiences for every visitor. I’m the type of person who isn’t bothered doing “touristy” things in their own town. Therefore, this list is quite touristy. Take it or leave it.

  1. Visit a museum. The Chicago History Museum to dig into the city-named-after-a-wild-onion’s turbulent past. The Field Museum for its famous dinosaur skeletons. Adler Planetarium to learn more about the sun, its planets and everything else under the stars. Museum of Science and Industry for inventions that will blow your mind. And finally, the Shedd Aquarium, provided the fascinating jellyfish exhibit is still ongoing.
  2. Ponder some art. The Art Institute of Chicago has major clout. How else do you explain why they’ve had Seurat’s famous Sunday Afternoon for all these years? Try the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago for ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics. I used to visit it often during my art history obsession in college. As a counterbalance, go to the Museum of Contemporary Art for art that makes you wonder what the heck art is. I saw an impressive Jeff Koons exhibit there a few years back.
  3. See a show. Chicago’s theater scene varies widely. Goodman and Chicago have great shows come through. Or check out Broadway in Chicago for all the places that host, you know, Broadway shows. But then, there’s the smaller gems like Steppenwolf, Lookingglass, and the Shakespeare theaters that all have incredible, intimate performances.
  4. Have a laugh. In the mood for something light? The Second City is where Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Jon Belushi, Mike Meyers, Steve Colbert, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and many others performed before they made it big. Or try the Blue Man Group if you don’t mind getting sprayed with mushed banana. (They provide ponchos.)
  5. Listen to music. From the symphony at Lyric Opera House to the small time rock band at Schuba’s to jazz at Kingston Mines to big time festivals (ever heard of Lollapalooza?), there is something for every… ear. And if you are still not satisfied, take the train up to Highland Park’s Ravinia, where you can choose either lawn or pavillion seats, while listening to the many artists that come through. Sprawling on the lawn as the sun goes down and candles light up, drinking wine, munching on cheese, sharing pasta salad… Those concerts used to be one of my favorite summer activities.
  6. Attend a sports event. Da Bulls (or the Blackhawks) at United Center. Da Bears at Soldier Field. The Cubs at Wrigley Field. Even the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park. There is something really powerful about the Chicago sports community. The pride and the devotion of its fans are unmatched.
  7. Enjoy the outdoors. There are parks galore in this planned city, thanks to Daniel Burnham and his comrades. Lincoln Park is topped only by Central Park in NYC for the number of visitors it draws each year (according to Wikipedia anyway). Millennium Park (home of the Cloud Gate) and Grant Park (Buckingham Fountain) are other popular parks which, in my opinion, offer solid photo ops for locals and visitors alike. Case in point:

    J+J at the cloud gate

    J+J at the cloud gate

  8. Take a tour. The Architectural Boat Tour is probably the most popular and it’s easy to see why. As you cruise the Chicago River, knowledgeable guides explain all about the rather incredible history of Chicago’s buildings. Or try a Segway Tour, which doesn’t need any explanation.

    segwaying

    segwaying

  9. Walk or bike the lakefront. Just in general. It’s pretty in all seasons, but best in summer. There is a lakefront path that stretches the entire city, north to south. Now that there is Divvy, the sweet, new shared bike program, it’s easier than ever to glide through the whole darn thing. Enjoy the rollerbladers, bicyclists, joggers, volleyball-ers and, oh yeah, some really beautiful skyline views.
  10. Take in the view. Speaking of views, head to the Sears Tower Skydeck. Okay, actually I have never done this (but I plan to on my upcoming visit). I hear it is quite astounding and on a clear day, you can see Wisconsin and Indiana. Also, there is a glass ledge you can step into, suspended over 100 stories up, for the thrill-seekers out there.

Eats Food is a very important, I’d even say critical, part of Chicago culture. Just see this Chicago Food Glossary and you’ll understand. You just can’t experience this city without exploring some of the fabulous restaurants. While trying to think like a visitor, I also added some of my personal favorites.

  1. Deep dish pizzaLou Malnati’s. Best Chicago-style pizza, hands down. Seriously. Giordano’s, Uno’s and Gino’s East are all “fine”, but they don’t compare to the glory that is Lou’s butter crust.
  2. Hot dogPortillo’s. No visit to Chicago is complete without a classic, Chicago-style hot dog or a sweaty Italian beef. This is the place to get it. I actually detest the downtown location, but bite the bullet hot dog here. And don’t ask for ketchup. Never ketchup. They’ll slap your face (or should). If you really want to get fancy with your dog, scramble over Hot Doug‘s as they open. Don’t let the line around the block discourage you.

    hot doug's

    hot doug’s insanity

  3. TacoBig Star. Very trendy and you may have to wait in a (sometimes very long) line, but there is no better way to spend a sunny afternoon than by sipping margaritas and chowing down on inventive (& cheap) tacos at this hipster hangout. Note: lime juice + your skin + the sun don’t mix well. Want the cheap late night stuff? Picante.
  4. Pig face. In the mood to, you know, eat a pig’s face? How about a cod cheek? Solution: Girl and the Goat. Opened a few years ago by Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard, this creative American hotspot is completely, positively, absolutely worth the hype. (I heard her new eatery, Little Goat, is superb as well.)
  5. Seafood. GT Fish and Oyster. One of our favorite date locales. The best nights were spent sitting at the bar, downing raw oysters and dirty martinis. Another great choice is Le Colonial on Rush. 
  6. Steak. David Burke’s Primehouse. You can’t visit Chicago and not have a steak. That’s just blasphemous. I’m not really a red meat person, but David does it right. Avoid the chains. 
  7. ItalianVia Carducci. There are a million Italian restaurants in the city. What I love about this one is its neighborhood charm (now that our beloved Terragusto closed its doors). We spent many casual date nights and family birthday dinners here. The one on Division is teeny tiny, reasonably-priced and there’s never a wait. Don’t mind waiting? Rosebud on Taylor. 
  8. Sushi/Thai. Butterfly Thai. There is nothing fancy about this place, let’s get that straight. It’s a hole in the wall. But, it had to make the list, if only because they got so much of my business while I was living in Ukrainian Village (I told you this would be biased). My favorite sushi and Pad Thai, and it’s BYOB, c’mon.
  9. Sandwich. As any Chicagoan will tell you, sometimes you just need a gigantic sandwich. At Jerry’s. If you don’t get the Mindy F with peanut butter… I don’t know what to tell you.
  10. Brunch. If brunch was a sport, I’m a gold medalist. I can’t choose just one place. Milk & Honey for their huevos rancheros casserole. Toast for that pancake orgy. Nookies for any of their weekly specials. Orange for the fru-shi (fruit sushi, duh). Feast for the benedict. Rockit for the Bloody Mary bar… The list goes on.
  11. Bonus! Some places that I have never tried, but will from all the rave reviews I hear: RPM for Italian, Frontera Grill for Mexican, Sunda for sushi, Kuma’s for his famous burgers and Ruxbin for creative American.

Drinks We more or less stuck to our usual hangouts (Ola’s being one of them), but here is a variety of places depending on your mood.

  1. Beer. Head over to Goose Island Brewery (or almost any bar in the city) and get a Green Line. Really want to impress the bartender? Order the vintage Sophie or Matilda and they’ll think you’re a local. Or just someone that appreciates really good beer.
  2. Wine. Sono became a popular place for friends and I to have wine nights; it was the perfect stop after shopping binges on North Ave. They also have tasty pizzas. 404 Wine Bar (nestled in the Southport Corridor) and DOC Wine Bar (in my old stomping grounds, Lincoln Park) are also very good.
  3. ChampagneRM Champagne Salon is swanky, tiny, with French-inspired details and beautiful chandeliers. Great for dates.
  4. With a view. Duh, the Signature Lounge. Okay, I will warn you right away that this is very touristy. But, it’s on the 96th floor of the Hancock Tower and there are beautiful sweeping views of the city.
  5. Pre-dinner. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Hunt Club because we headed there on our very first date before a meal of epic proportions at nearby Carmine’s.
  6. Post-dinnerTrump Hotel‘s Rebar or Terrace. As the name suggests, it’s a bit on the upscale side. Such great views of the river that you almost forget you paid $18 for that cocktail.
  7. Secret. Is the light on? That means Violet Hour is open. A disguised facade with a “hidden” entrance, VH has the best cocktails in the city.
  8. Sports Bar. Try Old Town Social for a sports bar that doesn’t feel like a junky college hangout. If you want a junky college hangout, go anywhere in Wrigleyville. There’s my bias again!
  9. Mobster-style. The Bedford. People around the world still remember Chicago as Al Capone’s territory, filled with mobsters, and basically a corrupt city (which it is…). This old school real bank vault turned trendy bar/restaurant celebrates that image in the best way. With stiff drinks.
  10. Late night. Innjoy. The late night dance parties can’t be beat. Although maybe I only liked this place because I could stumble home afterward. Of course, there’s also dive bar Ola’s, which hands out $1 mystery shots and has an ancient jukebox from which you can blast LaBouche. Not that I ever did that…
  11. Bonus! Need to try Maude’s Liquor Bar on Randolph (maybe before dinner at Girl and the Goat?), Hopleaf up north with it’s massive beer selection, and the Whistler because it just looks cool.

Shops Organized this category by street since there is no easy way to do this.

  1. Michigan Ave (Magnificent Mile). This is where you’ll find all the major department stores and designer boutiques. Prepare to get sucked up in the current and just go with it.
  2. Damen. Between Armitage and North are a ton of little boutiques. Old favorites include Apartment number 9 for menswear, Stitch for beautiful home goods, Riley for clothes and jewelry, etc, etc. Goddess & Grocer is a wonderful place for lunch.
  3. Armitage. Great boutique shopping (try Art Effect), with a lot of beauty stores thrown in like Kiehl’s, Benefit, MAC, and more.
  4. Southport. My Anthropologie was/still is over here, but now I’d love to also browse through Krista K and Perchance. Southport Grocery is a great place to refuel, but if you are there in the evening, Tango Sur is a dynamite Argentinian steakhouse.
  5. Division. Itty bitty boutiques abound. I loved Penelope’s for the clothing and Paperdoll for stationery.
  6. Milwaukee. The heart of what-used-to-be-hipstervile-and-now-is-yuppieville. That’s okay though. Find your Levi’s, Free People, Urban Outfitters and some interesting vintage stores here.
  7. North. I used to do some real damage on this street. With power labels like J.Crew and housewares mecca Crate & Barrel (and it’s trendy baby C2), I’d gather my necessities here. (Then grab wine at Sono.)
  8. Grand. Some of my favorite antique/junk stores are over here and they are amazzzzing. Salvage One is the best and it’s also an event venue (we considered having our wedding here, but went with this incredible space…which made this awesome list at #3)
  9. Montrose. Admittedly, I never made it up here myself. But I hear Neighborly is rad.
  10. Just trust me. The Walgreens on North & Damen. This isn’t your average drug store.

And there we have it. Now that I don’t live there anymore, I realize two things 1) how massive that city is (2.7 million residents! 234 square miles!) and 2) how little I really knew of it (I didn’t even touch on cool neighborhoods like Logan Square, Andersonville, or Pilsen). It’s amazing how you can find your little niche wherever you live and once you find that comfort, you kinda stick with it.

I know a city this large has way way wayyyy more to offer. Have something to add? Please leave a note in the comments!

xxx

{first image is from a boat tour I took with my dad back in 2010.)

P.S. My guide to visiting Amsterdam.

Labor Day in Maine

Happy Tuesday ya’ll. Over the weekend, autumn arrived here in Portland right on cue. Mornings are now dark; the days overcast; the rain sporadic. At night there is a new chill in the air that was blissfully absent last week.

Luckily, we bid adieu to summer 2013 in the best way possible. Over an extended Labor Day weekend, we flew coast to coast (Portland to Portland to be exact) to celebrate the nuptials of two very dear friends. A wedding is as good a reason as any to travel to places that you otherwise might not prioritize. It was a no brainer to share the best day of our friends’ lives with them, but seeing as we live on the opposite side of the country, we also knew we had to make the most it. Who knows when we’ll have the opportunity to go to Maine again? Especially with 10 of our close friends?

As I mentioned before, this was my first trip to Maine and I had all sorts of ideas as to what it would be like. Quaint. Charming. Rustic. Woodsy. These words were all buzzing in my head as we prepared for our visit.

Turns out, they’re all spot on. Yet, I was surprised at just how very secluded and remote Maine felt. Maybe that was because we had to drive for hours and hours to get from one place to another, or maybe it was because we didn’t have decent cell reception ever. Outside of Portland, the small towns that speckled the landscape were few and far between.

For part of the trip, we were at a resort up in the mountains and for the rest, we rented a log cabin near the coast and Acadia National Park. We spent one day in the park and Bar Harbor, but otherwise were relaxing at the cabin, eating lobster, swigging PBRs, and laughing more than anyone should. I was all over Instagram this trip, while Jaro manned the DSLR. The pictures tell the story better than I could, so here are my Instagrams…

Holy Donut doughnuts

Holy Donut doughnuts

the good stuff

the good stuff

pier beer

pier beer

covered bridge

covered bridge

Newry, ME

morning jog in Newry, ME

Newry, ME

Newry, ME

Newry, ME

Newry, ME

Newry, ME

Newry, ME

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

our log cabin

our log cabin

view from our log cabin

view out the back door

So… Maine is perfection. And just what we needed to welcome fall.

xxx

Trip Planning: Hiking the Kalalau Trail

Jaro and I are thrilled to be heading back to Kauai this fall. It can’t come soon enough! Aside from sunning on the beautiful beaches, snorkling with sea turtles, eating all the fresh poki we can handle, and enjoying time with Jaro’s aunt, we decided to try something new while we are there this time…

We’re going to hike the entire 11 mile Kalalau Trail that runs along the breathtaking NaPali Coast. Those 11 miles take the “good conditioned” hiker one full day. So obviously, coming back out will take another full day at a minimum. This will probably be a two night trip, so we can spend a day relaxing at the final destination- Kalalau Beach. It will also depend on weather, which can turn in an instant on Kauai.

Before we could do our happy dance, we had to clear two things: That the trail is passable during this time of year (it is, but there is always a risk of rain) and that we could obtain the overnight camping permits in time because they sell out quickly (we did). Fortunately, we have all the equipment for backcountry camping, so we’re all set. Although Jaro will take any excuse for another stroll through REI.

The first time we went to Kauai together, back in 2008 (!), we hiked the first 2 miles to the Hanakapi’ai waterfalls. Climbing past giant bamboo, mountain streams and wild lychee, it was truly an unforgettable experience. Here are some pics from our little point and shoot we were using back then. These were all shot in one day and you can see how the weather changes pretty drastically from clear, to completely overcast and back.

I can’t wait for the shots we’ll take with our better camera and better photography skills!

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

one last look at NaPali

a rewarding sunset at Ke'e Beach

xxx

Daydreaming about… Maine

Today I’ve got Maine on my mind. Can you guess why? Yep, we’re flying coast to coast because we’ve got another wedding coming up (our friends pick good places to get hitched!). I’m so ready for some lobster-crackin’, wine-sippin’, pier-loungin’, good old-fashioned FUN with some dear pals. It will be my first trip to Maine and I have a strange feeling that I’m going to love it. The log cabin is booked and my plaid shirts are standing by. These pics are also helping me get in the mood…

Maine-spiration Maine-spiration Maine-spiration

The pier, the porch, the adirondacks… It all paints this scene of pleasant, breezy summertime. Hopefully, that’s what our trip will be all about. And watching our friends get hitched, of course. 

We’ll be spending time in Portland, deep in the woods and along the salty coast. Maybe a little ambitious, but hey. We’re flying coast to coast here. Gotta take full advantage.

And now for some links…

These maps showing how Americans say the same thing differently is fascinating.

Untranslatable words from around the world. Another good one is gezelligheid from the Dutch. It means cozy and warm time spent with loved ones.

I probably need to do this brewery tour if I consider myself a resident of Portland.

Also on the to-do list: Befriend Jack Johnson and snag a seat at his next dinner party.

Speaking of food, the chefs that did our insanely creative, one-of-a-kind rehearsal dinner combining foods of our heritage (i.e. barbacoa pork perogi and jalepeño-infused borscht) have a top-rated restaurant now, Fat Rice. I’m so happy for them.

Ending with a somber note- Did you watch this? You should. Basic premise: Don’t text and drive. Ever.

xxx

{images 1, 2, 3}

4th of July in Napa Valley

Napa Valley has been done. Am I right? It’s been written about from every angle, every budget, every preference, every possible perspective, so it’s almost intimidating to write about it, hoping to give it some fresh, new edge.

But, here it goes.

I had vacationed in Napa a few years ago with my girlfriends and we had the time of our lives. In those few days we spent there, I developed strong attachment to some (not all, certainly) of the wineries we visited, promising myself that I’d find my way back there. Lucky for us, some friends planned to marry in St. Helena this summer, so it was the perfect opportunity to go.

After driving down through the Redwoods, we found ourselves in the valley for four days of indulgence. What I love about this region is the ease. It is laid out so well. The downside of this is that it’s extremely commercial. Touristy (a word that makes travelers cringe).

Our goal was to avoid the traps that felt generic and overdone. In fact, as we moseyed up and down Rt. 29 (and the lesser used Silverado Trail), we skipped right over all the heavy hitters. I waved to Robert Mondavi and Sutter Home. We blew right past Sterling and Rutherford Hill. In fact, we attempted Stag’s Leap and walked right back out. Too crowded, loud, touristy and not at all the vibe we were going for during our vacation.

So now for the places we did go. Since we aren’t wine snobs (can’t remember the last time I turned away a bottle), our enjoyment was largely dependent on the atmosphere.

On day one, we first wanted to fuel up for the day of tastings ahead. Stopping at the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, we reveled in Latin American coffee flights and huevos rancheros. It was 10:30am and we were ready for wine!

William Hill Estate Winery

Our first stop was William Hill, just outside of Napa. We lounged on adirondack chairs under a shady umbrella (mercifully, as it was near 100° that day) and sipped on a custom tasting selection, which was just divine. It was very intimate, only a few other chairs speckled the grassy hilltop and guests were respectfully talking in hushed whispers. And the views were spectacular. With sweeping vistas of the valley in every direction, we immediately felt like we were on vacation. It was the best way to start. 

William Hill

William Hill

living the good life

living the good life

Robert Sinskey Vineyards

After grabbing hearty sandwiches from Soda Canyon, we drove up Silverado to Sinskey, outside of Yountville, for another tasting and a picnic lunch. Because of the blazing sun, the rose-lined patio was deserted and we planted ourselves under another umbrella. Enjoyed the solitude and, again, the views.

Robert Sinskey

Robert Sinskey

J+J

J+J

Mumm Napa

Further still up the Silverado Trail, we ended our day of touring at Mumm, near Rutherford. This one was a bit more crowded, but it was worth it for the sparkling bubbles to cap off a great day. It had larger capacity, but if you snag a table at the edge of the patio overlooking the vineyard, you feel miles away from anywhere.

Mumm Napa

Mumm Napa

Mumm views

Mumm views

Frog’s Leap Vineyard

The next morning, after some warm sourdough breakfast sandwiches from Model Bakery, we had a reservation at Frog’s Leap. This might be my favorite. I love the wrap-around porch and their organic, irrigation-free wines. I also love that you can get up close and personal with the vines and the gardens; you’re free to stroll around as you taste. Afterward, we cruised over to étoile Restaurant at the Chandon Estate. Needless to say, it was a luxurious meal.

"time's fun when you're having flies"

“time’s fun when you’re having flies”

Frog's Leap vines

Frog’s Leap vines

Rustridge Vineyard & Winery  

Sadly, this was the only disappointing stop in our visit. We were the only ones there, and while I like privacy, this was too much. More like a red flag. The grounds were nothing special, the wines were just okay, and the host was terribly awkward. Not sure it’s ever appropriate to make guests feel like they’re inconveniencing you by showing up. Still, I’m glad we went. It was a beautiful drive out on Sage Canyon Rd, way far away from the congestion in town. Our misadventure was framed by the pretty drives.

Rustridge

Rustridge

Rustridge

Rustridge

Sequoia Grove Vineyards

Another favorite. The wooden barn for Sequoia’s tasting room is rustic without being frumpy, a sort of quiet elegance that is comfortable and refined. I love it. We grabbed a bottle since we didn’t want to commit to a full tasting, and enjoyed a glass on the back patio.

Sequoia Grove

Sequoia Grove

Kelham Vineyard

This was the star of the show when I was here with girlfriends a few years ago. Tucked away on a quiet side street and only available by appointment, Kelham delivers a truly five-star experience. Set on the family estate, you are free to roam around by the reflecting pool and play with the dogs. Taking us through eight wines, it was the biggest tasting and most expensive (at $80 p.p.). Worth it.

Kelham

Kelham

Wait, but where’d we eat? Farmstead (the gnocchi!) and French Blue (the cheddar biscuit!) in St. Helena were both that perfect balance of laid-back charm and good, fresh food. Highly recommend. Carpé Diem in Napa was also great and they don’t have a corkage fee if you bring your own wine. Pass on the overbearing service at Goose & Gander; the drinks and apps were tasty, but the server was pushy.

And, of course, the wedding was lovely. How could it not be? Napa Valley is a slice of heaven.

xxx

P.S. I “discovered” the Silverado Trail in February.

P.P.S. French wine country is a little different.

Road Trip: Redwoods National Park

Perhaps my last post made it seem like we don’t do anything fun anymore. That’s not true. We do lots of fun things. And by fun things I mean pretty freaking awesome things.

For instance: When a friend says they’re getting married in Napa over the 4th of July, you say, SEE YOU THERE. Automatically. Without a second’s hesitation.

It was the perfect opportunity to take our first vacation since our move, especially now that we are on the west coast. Like the Barefoot Contessa would say, how easy is that? Speaking of food, we were hungry for more (like Napa was not enough?). We decided that, rather than fly straight to wine country, we’d road trip through the Redwood National Park for some scenic breaks along the way.

So that’s what this post is about. Those redwoods. I’ll get to Napa later. Did you know that the California redwoods are the tallest organisms on earth? With towering heights over 300 feet, no other living thing reaches so close to the sun.

The straight shot from Portland to Napa takes about 10 hours and could feasibly be done in a day. Adding the redwoods to our trip meant an extra 4-5 hours to our journey, so we chose to split it up over two days. Throwing our camping equipment into the truck (and caution to the wind), we figured we’d find a campground to crash for the night. I had read about some coastal dune camping that got us excited.

Fast forward through a gorgeous 7 hour drive through the Pacific Northwest (did you know Northern California is part of it?) and the trees suddenly look as if on steroids. We were in the national park. It’s late afternoon by this point and we needed to find a spot to set up our tent. After a quick visit to the state park visitor center, we see that the dune camping is full. Sad face. But it is first come, first serve and who did we think we were showing up at 4 in the afternoon? Myself, getting a little panicky and Jaro, staying ever so calm, head to a county campground, hoping for some available sites.

We pulled up to a tiny pitch tent campground that, thank god, had ample space and a friendly host. It was located on the banks of a pretty river and filled with giant redwoods. We set up quickly. Sitting on the riverbank, we enjoyed wine and the cool breeze as the sun went down. When the shadows chased us back to our campsite, we huddled around a fire, devouring grilled cheese sandwiches and taking small sips of whiskey.

Riverbank at sunset

riverbank at sunset

Grilled brie, blue and camembert sandwiches with apricot jam

grilled brie, blue, munster and camembert sandwiches with apricot jam

Our roof for the night. Redwoods National Park, CA

our roof for the night

It was very secluded; very quiet, which was only partially comforting as there was a state prison nearby.

MOVING ON.

Upon our survival without a murderer stalking us through the night, we packed up and headed to Big Tree, at the urging of my guidebook. That’s the name. It was… big. As we stood at the base, I stared up in wonder. There’s something about being dwarfed by nature that is so humbling and beautiful. That’s really all I can say about that.

Tolawa Dunes State Park, CA

morning fog. Tolawa Dunes State Park, CA

Redwood National Park, CA

there’s the sun. Redwood National Park, CA

Big Tree

Big Tree

Neck cramp at Big Tree

neck cramp at Big Tree

Feeling small. Big Tree, Redwood National Park, CA

feeling small. Big Tree, Redwood National Park, CA

Once we felt satisfyingly shrunken and tiny, we drove down to Lady Bird Johnson Grove, an easy one mile loop according to my book (and saw bears en route!). While flat, well-maintained, “easy”, etc., it took us a few hours to walk around this gem of a path. Your eyes don’t know what to do with themselves. There was so much to see. So many colors, textures and, not to mention, heights. We noticed all sorts of special moments, both big and small. High and low. Well worth the time to mosey around this one.

momma bear and cub sighting!

momma bear and cub sighting!

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

a reminder.

a sweet reminder

Our final farewell to the woods was a tour down the Avenue of the Giants and through the ever so cliché Drive Thru Tree. The former is a stretch of road that parallels the highway, but offers a more intimate experience than the wide open 101. Driving through a maze of Mother Nature’s skyscrapers gave us this sense of awe that we couldn’t (and still can’t) shake. The latter, well, is pretty self-explanatory.

grazing elk

grazing elk

avenue of giants

avenue of giants

drive thru tree

drive thru tree with all the tourists

So that was our brief trip through the redwoods. More on Napa soon…

xxx

P.S. Most photographs were taken by my talented husband.

P.P.S. I visited other redwoods earlier this year. And the last time we camped. Seems like ages ago.

Booked: Flag Point Lookout Weekend

Did you love tree houses as much as I did when you were young? My friend across the street had one in her backyard and we’d spend countless hours up there, plotting, the way kids do, away from the prying eyes and ears of adults. There was something magical about being up high, among the trees, away from the ground reality. I never outgrew this fascination. Maybe it’s because I’m short; any method of being higher/taller than others gives me great satisfaction.

So imagine my pure, child-like glee when I found out that you can rent forest fire lookouts in the National Forests around Oregon (and beyond) during the off-season. You know, to sleep in. Like a cabin, but way up high over the trees. How cool is that! My Oregonian friend mentioned wanting to do this awhile ago, and obviously we were in. It’s yet another instance of all the awesome things to do in and around Portland. Four of us are going to be staying at the Flag Point Lookout in Mount Hood National Forest for a weekend next fall.

It’s seriously cool!

flagpoint lookout, or

Flag Point Lookout, OR

With views like this!

flagpoint lookout, or

Mount Hood, OR

Isn’t it beautiful? I can picture it already… Playing board games, wrapping up in our cozy Pendleton blankets, eating, I don’t know, salmon jerky(?), drinking whiskey hot chocolate from our Stanley thermos… all with those rich autumnal colors surrounding us. It’s a photo shoot waiting to happen.

The reservation process is a little intense. Lookouts can be reserved exactly 6 months prior to their availability, so you gotta have a plan and act fast before someone else snatches up the days you want. Weekends are especially competitive. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit we were both logged in and frantically hitting the refresh button waiting for Flag Point to become available… for six months from now.

If you’re interested, here is the website where you can browse and select accommodations: recreation.gov. There are really cool spots all over the country, but we selected one that would be an easy weekend trip from Portland.

xxx

(image 1, 2)

Holland, is that you? A quaint homage at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm

I miss Holland. A lot. Especially right now- the warm spring, the sun peeking out, all the tulips blooming and the entire place a colorful explosion. Flowers everywhere. It was the best.

So picture my delight when a friend told me about the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, right here in Oregon. About an hour’s drive from Portland, it’s just a family run farm with tulip fields, kiddie rides and what I can only describe as carnival food. It was cute. And I was immediately reminded of the beautiful tulip fields in Holland. Checking out the wooden shoe carving booths, I hunted around for people with whom I could possibly practice my Dutch (starting to get rusty), but no such luck. Can’t have it all.

Woodburn, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

Woodburn, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

Woodburn, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

Woodburn, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

Woodburn, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

Woodburn, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

Woodburn, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OR

I had to get in there.

xxx

P.S. I don’t miss everything about living in Holland.

Day Trip: Mount St. Helens

Dad and I took yet another day trip (see Astoria and the Gorge; our others) up to Washington, hoping for a glimpse of Mount St. Helens, an active volcano that famously erupted back in 1980. As we approached the visitor center, we had high hopes. Once inside, we learned that several roads were still closed due to snow. Snow? What snow? It was completely melted up to that point. We drove in as far as we could, passing snow piled up as tall as the car (oh), stopped in the middle of the road, and waited, thinking that the clouds would part to get a good look at her flat-top.

No such luck. As you’ll see in the pictures, we only got a slice of the pie this time. Ironically, the entire following week was so clear that we could see St. Helens every single day all the way from Portland. Looks like Dad has to come back again.

Mount St. Helens, WA

Visitor Center. Mount St. Helens, WA

Mount St. Helens, WA

Pretty scenery. Mount St. Helens, WA

Mount St. Helens, WA

Abnormally large clovers. Mount St. Helens, WA

Mount St. Helens, WA

Snow as tall as the car. Mount St. Helens, WA

Mount St. Helens, WA

There she (sorta) is. On the right, you can see the slope. Mount St. Helens, WA

Mount St. Helens, WA

A better look in the crater. Mount St. Helens, WA

Mount St. Helens, WA

Winter Wonderland. Mount St. Helens, WA

Verdict? It’s worth a shot. Even though we didn’t see the full monty, there was something special about my Dad and I leaning on the hood of my car, in silence, watching the clouds. You don’t get those moments very often. That was a good one. I won’t forget it.

xxx