You've heard a lot about my ancestry/heritage throughout the years here on the blog (Irish, Scottish, German), but not a lot about Alan's. His mom is 100% Sicilian; her parents having come to America as adults. Alas, even though my mother in law identifies strongly as a Sicilian American, she's never had the opportunity to visit the motherland.
We have been planning and scheming to change that.
Her birthday was last week, so to celebrate we took her to a local Sicilian restaurant and presented her with her gift in the form of a mock-up of a classified ad.
Needless to say, a lot of tears were shed by the group.
I'm just so happy that we are in a position that we can do this for her. We're thinking of going October 2015, which is still a long time away, but when I can realistically earn enough vacation time to accommodate the trip.
If you've been to Sicily, what was your favorite part? What should we absolutely not miss?
Last week I was scheduled to be in the Beaverton, Oregon, office for a few days so I dragged Alan up north for a few days of food, drink, and fun.
We flew in on Saturday morning and made an immediate bee-line to the food carts. I scrapped my food restrictions for the weekend, starting off with a porchetta sandwich from The Pig People. Alan opted for the chance to taste a new cuisine - Georgian food. No, not the southern state. The country. There were a few really good things - mushroom dumplings! - but overall I liked my porky goodness a bit better. After loading up on grub we went for a walk in Hoyt Arboretum, hitting up the magnolia grove. While it's normally cold and misty in Portland, for our visit it was sunny and hot. And I wasn't really dressed for the occasion. Damn. Working up a thirst on our walk, we made our way down the hill to Hair of the Dog Brewing Company, quite possibly the most delicious beer I've ever had the pleasure of tasting.
We tried to check in to the hotel - The Nines Portland - at 4 p.m. but they had other plans. After killing two hours we were finally able to check into our room at around 6 p.m. We took a power nap and then hit the road again, this time dinner at Portland's famous Thai restaurant, Pok Pok. There's normally a 1.5 hour wait for a party of two on a Saturday night but we were lucky enough to grab two seats at the counter right next to the hostess immediately. I'm told this is pretty much unheard of. The food was definitely good, but apparently we failed in our Pok Pok adventure by not getting the wings. We didn't know! We did, however, order the restaurant's two other signature dishes so I feel like we had a good representation of the flavors and the cuisine. I'm always excited to try Thai food that isn't pad thai or curry, so this was a great dinner in that regard. After dinner we hit up Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade, an old school arcade cum bar. It was quite the novel experience and we had a blast playing pinball and some old driving games. Unfortunately it was super warm in there and I had a headache from being out in the sun all day so we made a short night of it and were back at the hotel by 10 p.m. Unfortunately this is when the noise in our room started. Well, not IN our room, but somewhere in the immediate vicinity of our room. It sounded like construction directly above us and it went on for hours.
The next morning we woke up bright and early to hit up Voodoo Doughnut. For as many times as we've been to Portland together, we've never managed to make our way to this iconic PDX locale. We picked up three varieties - jelly filled (the voodoo guy), creme filled, and the famous maple bacon log - before jumping in the car for our drive out to Cannon Beach. Many people have told me that Cannon Beach is like Tofino so I really wanted to see if there was a place much closer to us that could fill that void when we couldn't make it up to British Columbia. While Cannon Beach is indeed a beautiful location, and I enjoyed the town immensely, I'm not sure that I'd compare it to Tofino at all. We took a long walk on the beach (I got sunburned!) and then had some clams and oyster shooters at a cute little restaurant on the main street before jumping back in the car and driving up the road to Astoria, home of original The Goonies house. We didn't really spend any time in Astoria, other than to see the house and stop at Safeway for some Excedrin for yet another damn headache. We got back in the car and drove back to the hotel, crossing the Columbia River to Washington state before crossing back right outside of Portland. For dinner, we made good on our vow for MORE BEER! by hitting up Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House. They messed up our food order, and we ended up eating way too much food, but since we love their brew we forgave them in the end. After a walk along the waterfront to work off some of those extra calories we went back to the hotel, getting back just in time to watch a most excellent episode of Game of Thrones.
It was around that time that the noise we heard the night before started up again, but this time it seemed even louder. After enduring it for hours I called down to the front desk to find out that the room we waited an extra two hours for was located directly below the kitchen. All that banging was the end of the night kitchen cleaning, and it couldn't be avoided. The receptionist promised to move me the next day, but I still fell asleep angry since our time at The Nines had been pretty bad from the moment we arrived.
The alarm went off bright (well, not bright since it was still dark outside) and early, and Alan was off to the airport so he could be back in HIS office in SF by 10 a.m. I jumped in the shower and got ready to spend the day in my own office out in the burbs. And with that, our fun was over for the weekend, another successful quick trip to Portland in the books.
Friends - if you're coming to PDX and wondering where to stay, DO NOT book The Nines. Despite it's (supposed) 5-star rating, our stay has been a nightmare. Even with my company's preferred corporate corporate rate, I'll never stay here again.
Here's a little story ...
We got here on Saturday at 4 p.m. to check in - room's not ready because housekeeping is running late. Check back at 4:45 - nope, not ready, but here's $25 to use at the hotel. Can I apply it to the $30/day parking fee? Check back at 5:20 p.m. - nope, not ready. "Room is clean but hasn't been inspected; give us 15 minutes," they said. Checked back at 5:45 p.m. and the room STILL hasn't been inspected! They send someone to inspect it and tell us they'll give us $50 in hotel credit - because with all of the amazing restaurants within spitting distance of this place, I want to eat here? Um, okay. Finally get to our room to drop off our stuff & freshen up before dinner. Seems like the Golden State Warriors might be staying here. I'm sure they didn't wait for their rooms.
First night I crash. Great room, I'll give them that. Wake up and Alan asks me if I heard the construction all night. Nope. But I did wake up at 3 a.m. AND CUT MY LIP ON A CHIPPED GLASS WHEN I TRIED TO DRINK SOME WATER. A bloody lip at 3 a.m. is awesome!
So, yesterday we come back to the room to watch Game of Thrones. Our TV flickers incessently the entire episode. Whatever. Annoying but not dire. At 9:30 p.m. the noise starts - carts and god knows what else being dragged over us. It went on for hours! At 11 p.m. I call the front desk to ask WTF. Turns out we're directly below the kitchens!!! They made us wait 2 hours to give us a room below the kitchen. Is this a joke? She offered to see if there was another room she could move us to. I told her we were already in bed but I'd take her up on that offer tomorrow.
So, tomorrow ... err, today? My room is directly on the city's garbage route. The garbage trucks start at 5 a.m.; they stay in front of my hotel from 5:35 a.m, until approximately 6:10 a.m.
This is going to be a very long day. ETA: I moved from the 7th floor to the 10th floor last night when I got home from work. The room is almost identical to the previous room, but it looks a bit more ... lived in. There is a turquoise throw pillow that if in my house would have been thrown away awhile ago. This morning, I waited nearly 30 minutes for my car. It's a good thing my 9 a.m. meeting was canceled. All in all, I cannot recommend this hotel for any reason.
Of course I chose the hottest day of the year (so far) to take my fitness "routine" from the treadmill to the great outdoors. While, yes, I was near to melting from the heat (77 degrees according to my phone), at least the scenery was pretty darn good. That is, until I saw a drug deal and several homeless people sleeping in the park. I guess it can't all be beautiful.
After our trip to New Orleans, we continued to eat vegetarian, but added seafood into the mix. For the most part, this was an incredibly satisfying way to eat. I can only recall a handful of times where I felt stumped by what I should have for lunch or dinner, or disappointed with what was ultimately consumed (and that was mostly when we ate at restaurants). At first, I found eating this way to be great for some of my skin and gastro issues, but the longer we continued with it, the less impressed I was. For the past month, in fact, I've noticed that a lot of my autoimmune issues are wreaking havoc with my body and with my energy levels, in particular. In addition to gaining weight, which is never good for your health, I have experienced extreme exhaustion for weeks at a time, joint pain on the entire right side of my body that had me bed ridden, and a return of some of the gastro issues that at first seemed to be conquered. So while I've really loved being able to eat bread and pasta again, I think I'm going to have to admit that they just aren't good for me and that I need to cut them out to improve my autoimmune health.
With about a month between now and when we go to Alaska, I really need to get healthy, including increasing my overall energy level, which will in turn hopefully up my activity level, and find a way to eat such that I feel healthier and my body hurts less. I don't want to say I'm going to eat Paleo again, because there is such a stigma attached to it, and I don't really follow all of the rules laid out by the Paleo evangelists, but I will be eating far less breads, pasta, and other refined carbohydrates in an effort to reduce the swelling and hopefully lose a bit of weight in the process.
Y'all have heard about the drought conditions that California is currently suffering through, right? During our winter months I can only recall four times that it rained for the entirety of the season. Many of the weekends, if you hadn't looked closely at the calendar, you would have thought fell smack dab in the middle of June. Using the unseasonably warm and dry weather as our guide, we booked an overnight camping trip to Yosemite for the end of March. I kept my eye on the weather forecast all last week, especially as the news predicted large spring storms coming our way. Sure enough, it looked like Yosemite Valley was destined for an early spring storm that would dump buckets of water. In a nutshell, not exactly great camping conditions.
Because I had it in my head that we were going away for the weekend, and I had been looking forward to the getaway, I convinced Alan that we should head up to Lake Tahoe instead. We haven't stayed on in South Lake for many years, typically preferring the North Shore, Squaw Valley, and Incline Village. In looking at last minute deals, I found one for the Hyatt but when I went to pay, between taxes and resort fees, the total price was almost $100 more than I had been quoted. Instead, I booked the Marriott Timber Lodge, next to the Heavenly Ski Resort gondola in South Lake and hoped for the best. The TripAdvisor reviews were universally good, so that wasn't going to be a problem. The hard part is the fact that neither of us are skiers, and with a location literally at the gondola at the base of the mountain I wasn't sure how we would spend our time. I need not have worried.
Before leaving, I checked the weather report and it was inconclusive. Depending on what site you reviewed, it was either going to rain, or it was going to be the snowstorm of the century. One site even called for 19 inches! Knowing that we could likely hit a lot of traffic due to the weather, we woke up bright and early (well, not exactly bright since it was still dark outside), and drove the three hours up to South Lake, hitting no traffic whatsoever. As we made our way up the mountain, we didn't encounter any snow until we reached the area around Strawberry. Looking toward the top of the mountain you could see that there had been a recent sprinkling of snow on the tallest of the treetops. At around Echo Summit, we encountered flurries. Hooray!
Reaching the resort around 10:30 a.m., we were thrilled when the great receptionist was able to check us into a room early. And best of all, we were upgraded from a basic room to a one bedroom suite overlooking the pool! Getting a room at all for early check in pretty much made the day. We were able to get to our room and take a nap since we'd been up since before sunrise. An hour later we threw on a ton of cold weather gear (we used this opportunity to test out some of the stuff we'd bought for our upcoming trip to Alaska), and made our way down to the gondola to ride it up to the tubing park. As we walked out of the hotel we noticed, however, that the gondola wasn't moving. As we got to the ticket counter, a concierge told us that the gondola was closed due to extreme weather and that there were two shuttles taking skiers up the mountain but that the tubing park was closed. (We later overheard a woman telling her boyfriend that it was so hard to ski up on the mountain because the winds were blowing snow so hard and fast that she couldn't see two feet in front of her.)
Undeterred, we picked up our car from the valet and drove back to Echo Summit to try our luck at Adventure Mountain, a cute little hill that had a few sledding and tubing options. When we got there, it started snowing pretty good, and I was like a kid in a candy store. Unfortunately, at 7280 feet above see level, my giddiness could also be attributed to a decided lack of oxygen. I have some trouble at altitude, including an inability to get enough oxygen into my lungs, and a habit of falling over dizzy. When you had hiking up a hillside to the mix, it wasn't the best of conditions for me. Still, it was mighty fun for an hour or so.
On our way out of Adventure Mountain, Alan wanted to test the Subaru's driving capability by going back to Echo Lake. As a kid his family spent time here during the summer and it holds a special place in his heart. When we told his dad that we were buying a Subaru, he mentioned that everyone that lived on Echo Lake owned Subarus for the winter months as they were the only cars that could legitimately handle the weather. To quote Barney Stinson, "Challenge Accepted!" The road had been plowed up to the snow park, but from that point on, it was mainly still snowed over with the exception of tire tracks. My guess is there was maybe 3-4 inches of snow on the road back to the lodge, before it was completely closed to all traffic down to the Lake. The car handled perfectly. In fact, it was a breeze. Because it was snowing and there was a lot of cloud cover we couldn't really see the lake, but the scenery was still pretty lovely. Oh, I almost forgot ... before going down the road to the Lodge, we turned off on another road that hadn't been plowed. It looked like almost a foot of snow was there. We drove down to test the car, and again, it performed admirably. We decided to turn around, only to see a new BMW X5 coming down the same narrow lane. Want to guess who got caught in the snow and was just spinning their tires? It wasn't us. Subaru 1, BMW 0. (Yes, I'm super competitive, even in this.)
We drove back in the snow and when we got to Tahoe there was a mandatory stop for all vehicles to put on chains (4WD vehicles are exempt from this rule). I had a feeling this meant that the storm was going to be gearing up for some craziness. Back down at the hotel (South Lake is about 1000 feet below Echo Summit) we hung out at the hot tub for awhile before going back to the room for a nap. Thank goodness we hit the hot tub up when we did because about 30 minutes after we got out, the place was packed!
The hot tubs at the Marriott are pretty darn nice! You can't see, but to the left is a pretty big pool as well. A while later we made our way out to The Brewery at Lake Tahoe. Now, if you haven't figured it out by now, we like beer. No, scratch that. We love beer. If there is a brew pub on our travels, we will find it. Stepping out of our building toward the valet, the snow was COMING DOWN. I'm talking giant, fat flakes of snow. And it was accumulating fast! It was like a winter wonderland out there.
Since there were a number of families in the restaurant portion of The Brewery, we sat in the bar. It made for some interesting people watching. It also made for some good beer drinking and food eating. I stuffed myself on fish & chips to the point where I thought I'd have to be rolled out of there. Unfortunately, we were seated at a table near the door, and a bunch of families with kids took this to be the waiting area so our meal was disturbed to say the least (at one point there was a lady so close to me that she was actually touching me - she didn't seem to mind, but I did). Rather than getting more beer, we ordered a growler and went back to the room. And that's when the food coma hit me. I couldn't keep my eyes open. I ended up taking ANOTHER nap. When I woke up, we cuddled up in bed and watched a few hours of stand up comedy on Comedy Central. Hannibal Buress has a pretty hilarious stand up routine on New Orleans that was especially funny to us having just visited, and having just eaten at the place that is a center point to the routine.
The next morning we got up before dawn again and hung around the room a bit. We didn't really have anything to do so we decided to hop in the car and drive home. Wow, SO MUCH SNOW. It was beautiful. On the way out of Tahoe we got to pass straight through the chain check because of our Subaru. Hooray! I'm already loving this car so much. At Echo Summit, we decided to test the car again since a new foot of snow had fallen. We drove straight back to the Lodge and while it was a noticeably different drive than the day before, the Subaru still went right through it, totally un-phased. We almost got to the Lodge when there was a Honda Accord spinning its tires, and a bunch of people trying to get it out of the way. We wanted to go around it and drive on to the Lodge, but the guy that was there - not sure if he was affiliated with the Lodge, but he spoke authoritatively - was kind of rude to us and basically told us to go away. Not having anywhere to turn around (because the Honda was blocking our path to do so), Alan had to drive backwards for about 1/2 mile in over a foot of fresh snow. Again, not a problem. You know how you see something on the internet and you think it can't possibly be like that in real life? Well, we had watched plenty of videos of Subarus in the snow but until you see how this car performs for yourself, you can't possibly understand how well this vehicle is made for inclimate weather.
All in all, it was a great 30 hours away from home. It wasn't a huge trip by any stretch of the imagination, but I really appreciated being able to take what amounted to a staycation on pretty short notice. I want to see if we can manage to fit in even more trips like this throughout the rest of the year. I definitely want to get to Yosemite at some point - I'm thinking June.