Archives: Travel

Tolkien Birthday Celebration

I made my annual pilgrimage to the Kennedy School for the J.R.R. Tolkien Birthday Bash on Saturday. The recent inclement weather is the likely culprit for this year’s rather sparse attendance. (Seriously, I saw a couple guys on cross-country skis crossing the street when I left.) So I suppose there isn’t much to report. I brought the family with me, thinking the Heir Apparent would be old enough to enjoy some of the activities, maybe enjoy the costumes. But I only saw one person in costume. Due to naptime considerations (no, not mine, wiseass) and the condition of the roads we left before any of the planned events began (except for the commencement of the trilogy showing in the theater, but I’d just as soon sit at home for a re-watch.)

Boise

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Another wedding, another road trip. This time, Boise, Idaho and another sibling getting hitched.

So, Boise. What to write about Boise? First, let me get something off my chest. Come on, Boise, put in some grocery stores. Seriously. And some convenience stores, not attached to gas stations, in locations that are — convenient.

Boise is brown. Tan, ecru, burnt umber, buff. Brown. Nice enough I suppose. Maybe an acquired taste, or I simply notice the somewhat monochromatic scenery because I’ve spent most of my life living the Pacific Northwest and my expectation is attuned to green.

I’ve discovered some nice places. For example, in the Boise suburb of Meridian there is a terrific park with a world class playground for the kids. And I can envision passing afternoons at Payette Brewing, down by the river in Boise, sitting at the picnic tables in the beer garden or playing one of the lawn games, pint in hand. I’m familiar with the “Rustler,” a solid IPA. I sampled a couple taproom only IPAs and a barleywine. All decent to good. 10 Barrel Brewing is located downtown. It’s an offshoot of the headquarters brewery, but I’m pleased to see it maintains the architectural design aesthetic of the original Bend location. And the lettuce wraps were excellent.

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Unfortunately I can only eat and drink so much. So, there must be more. The zoo was modest, but entertaining. And the price matched, especially thanks to the reciprocity granted by my Portland zoo membership card.

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The state capitol is right downtown. That’s fairly cool. Downtown itself is lively on a weekend (especially a Bronco’s game weekend) though small.

I’m here for a few more days, so I hope to discover more to see and do. I didn’t bring my bicycle, nor attire for white water rafting (neither of which activities are suited to the aptitudes and proclivities of a toddler anyway) so outdoor recreation will have to wait until the next visit.

In the meantime, I have a wedding to dress for.

Monterrey Supplemental: Beer. And Miscellaneous Updates

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When we gringos think of Mexican beer, we think of thumbing a wedge of lime into a bottle of watery lager, preferably while sitting by the beach or floating in the swimming pool. But this particular gringo is always sniffing out the local craft brew scene. It took some doing in Monterrey, but I did track down some microbrewed product. Given the enormous size of Monterrey, I’d hoped to find more little breweries, but I was able to sample the goods of six different craft brewers. I even — finally — found a grocery store that carried a reasonable offering. (Locals tip: the best selection of beer in Monterrey is at the Walmart in Gomez Marine.)

Funny enough, the tiny pub and bottle shop where I sampled the beers described below was about a block from my hotel. Sadly, I didn’t discover it until I’d been in town for three days. So it goes, right? Anyway, here are the notes I took in Cueva Carvajal. (An aside: many of the beer names are Spanish double entendres. Lost on me, but amusing to those fluent in the colloquial idioms.)

Sweltering in Monterrey

View from my brother-in-law's house.

View from my brother-in-law’s house.

Two blocks from the hotel on a Sunday morning and Monterrey is nearly unrecognizable. Kilometers of a major thoroughfare — the sort with a shady, tree-lined median and jogging path bisecting it — is closed. Bikers, joggers, walkers, dogs, and children pedaling four-wheelers crowd the street and the median. Not a single driver is plotting to commit vehicular homicide against me.

It’s rare I can step out onto a street in Monterrey without feeling my life threatened by every driver behind the wheel. Kind of nice, really.

But even at mid-morning the heat is sapping, merciless, and promising to grow worse. So, back inside to write today’s web log post.

I like writing in hotels. There is a sense of seriousness in the act of enclosing oneself in a room, curtains closed, and getting down to it, instead of being out, exploring what lies beyond the walls of the hotel. The implied sacrifice of unknown experience and fun suggests one is truly working and not merely playing at writing.

Not that I’m here in Monterrey for fun. When one considers vacation options in Mexico, Monterrey does not spring immediately to mind. I’m here for a wedding, and the reception on the terrace at Hotel Chipinque. My Beautiful Wife is taking advantage of the opportunity to visit clients and give a seminar. So I’m also here to assist MBW, looking after the Heir Apparent while MBW works.

View from Chipinque

View from Chipinque

I have gotten a bit of work done on Boss, writing a bit on the airplane, and writing a chapter over the last couple of days. Again, on the subject of writing in hotels, I’m for it.

So far we’ve visited family, spent some time in the hotel swimming pool until the sun drives us out, and eaten very well. Today being Father’s Day, I anticipate a memorable meal.

At the moment, however, it is enough to savor air conditioning. Sweet, sweet throat-desiccating hotel air conditioning.

Checking Crater Lake off the List

I suppose most of us have lists. Or, if not lists, the occasional thought that “I really ought to [insert specific] sometime.” For me it is the latter. I don’t actually make lists, bucket or otherwise. But one thing that has cropped up in my mind every once in awhile over the last few decades is that I should visit Crater Lake. After all, I’ve lived almost my entire life in the Pacific Northwest. What excuse do I have?

This weekend I finally scratched that itch. I drove My Beautiful Wife and the Heir Apparent (I kind of like that, I might stick with the “Heir Apparent”) from Portland to Roseburg on Saturday. We enjoyed a terrific little brewpub for beer (I was partial to both the Imperial IPA and a seasonal IPA with an excellent balance) and pizza (wood-fired brick oven pizza with a nice char, the Meat Lovers actually had a layer of salami below the cheese.) Backside Brewing was almost worth the drive by itself.

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Today we drove to Crater Lake. First we made a pit stop at Diamond Lake, braving a velcro-like maelstrom of flies at the lakeshore. Then, on to Crater Lake. Joining, apparently, half of California. But no whining. The trip was worth every mile, every delay. (The effrontery of other people, actually wanting to visit a popular attraction the same day I do. Don’t they know who I am?)

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We made it back to Roseburg in time to drive another five miles down I-5 to visit a drive-through wildlife safari. That was surprisingly enjoyable. Lions and tigers and bears. You know the rest. The Heir Apparent ate it up. She’s taken with bears. (“Osos” is one of her most frequently used bits of Spanish vocabulary.)

Much time in the car (hit 100,000 miles on the odometer at the Crater Lake Park entry.) Looking at about three more hours for the drive home tomorrow. That’s fine. I’m tossing word salads in my head. How much of that work will ever end up on paper remains to be seen. But it is never time ill-spent.

Pacific Northwest Coastal Thoughts

Good — even great — writers develop and thrive in every climate and every locale. I’m not going to pretend they don’t. But, as I’m writing this in my hotel room on the beach in the Pacific Northwest Coast, I’m going to ignore all that pesky reality and posit reasons why the PNC matrix grows and nurtures superlative writers. N.B. I’m not counting myself among them; I’m a long time resident of Portland and its environs (soon to stretch the practical definition of ‘environs’), and not a coastal denizen.

Gloomy leaden skies threaten rain and reliably deliver on those threats. Monotonous drizzle, wind-driven sheets of icy sleet needles, torrents. Sodden evergreen forests soak up the constant precipitation, storing it up to deliver bucket loads to the fiddlehead ferns and assorted undergrowth below that turns the ground to an unbroken stretch of sponge. It’s wet, is what I’m saying. People stay indoors. Might as well write.

And what goes on in those vast tracts of rainforest? Dense, trackless. Why not Sasquatch? Elves or aliens. There’s a reason Mulder and Scully spent so much time blundering about through Pacific Northwest forests, right? Couldn’t just be the Vancouver, B.C. shooting location. Don’t be a cynic.

Over the dunes the gray expanse of the Pacific beckons. Waves pound irregularly on the rocks and sand, suggesting to the imaginative a syncopation one could grasp if one listened long enough. It is tantalizing. What is the rhythm? The off-beat drives the offbeat imagination.

The Pacific Northwest Coast restaurants abound in clam chowder, Dungeness crabs, fresh caught salmon, beer brewed not too far from that very spot. Fuel for the imagination.

The funky little towns tucked into coves and straddling headlands offer quirky antique shops and used bookstores. The kind of tiny, bric-a-brac filled establishments that seem to promise a long-forgotten magical relic or tome of lore, if one searches long enough through overlooked alcoves.

The people who wash up on the coast from inland like flotsam and jetsam offer model fictional characters. The burnouts, ex-hippies, retirees, seekers of second, third, fourth chances, the eternal optimists who think this business venture will really get traction.

Are any one or combination of the above the answer, or even an answer? I don’t know. All I know is that recent series of crashing waves had a pretty catchy hook.

Kona Brewer’s Festival

Kona Brewer’s Festival

Aloha! I’m writing today’s post from the lanai of rented condo in Kona Hawaii, overlooking palm trees, tennis court and ocean. The things I do for you people. Exhausting.

Take yesterday for example, when I spent the afternoon tasting beer, oceanside, in the sun and sampling the offerings a dozen local restaurants and caterers. Sheer torture, the Kona Brewers Festival, but I endure it for you.

Phoenix

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Something you learn when traveling with an infant is that on any given day of the trip you can plan one thing. One event, one sight-seeing excursion, one (relatively) leisurely restaurant meal. The rest of the day is governed by the baby’s sleeping schedule. Decent accommodations are vital. A pool helps. A television with access to children’s programming doesn’t hurt. A well-stocked refrigerator goes a long way towards easing the times spent in guest housing.

So many thanks to a generous friend for putting up with me, my beautiful wife Isa, and my rambunctious and rambling ten-month old daughter V.V.

And thanks to the greater Phoenix area for providing a thing-a-day for us to do during our mini-vacation.

Off the Grid

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A weekend away every now and then is refreshing. Sometimes the family will drive up toward Mt. Hood, spend a couple of days with some friends in a cabin on the Salmon River. No television, no internet. Just games and conversation.

This weekend provided a variation on that theme and the family stayed home. A friend of a friend owns a cabin and property fronting a lake about midway along the Oregon Coast. My friend wanted to scout the property, check out the signs of deer activity, look for likely spots for hunting. Given the proximity of the lake, I thought there might be a chance to take a potshot or two at ducks, so I agreed to go along. A third friend joined us.