August is prime harvest season for the Peterson Garden Project, which has community gardens scattered across Chicago’s North Side. Fresh tomatoes grown in the small plot tended by our son-in-law Rocket in the Project’s Vegwater garden in the Edgewater neighborhood were a highlight of a late Sunday lunch that Emma whipped up for us.
Then we went over to check out the garden. The place is bursting with colorful veg and flowers, in over 100 small individually tended plots. Tomatoes, peppers, cubes, herbs, zinnias, gotta love seeing this in the heart of a big city.
We stopped for cold brew and oolong coconut iced tea and a killer brownie at Metropolis, near the Glendale El station before wandering over to Hollywood beach where we could see that the crazy stunt planes we watched on our drive into the city along lake shore drive were done entertaining as part of the annual air and water show. Dinner was with wonderful aunt MAT at L. May, the ode to Midwestern supper clubs in Lincolnwoid. Excellent fish (trout with capers, grilled white fish and walleye), potatoes (twice-baked, garlic mashed) and bbq ribs. Great service and of course company.
For some reason, we could not get a Wisconsin map at any of the tourist offices we visited while there last weekend – and we tried several. Perhaps it’s part of some budget cutback? Anyway, it forced us to rely on partial maps we found at the tourism offices – most notably a multi-county map of good roads for bicyclists. The one we used was the West-Central Wisconsin State Bike Trails map, which includes “safe roads to ride,” “bike trails” and “Amish community.” With it, we found a pretty series of mostly letter-named roads that went diagonally from Sparta northwest to Alma on the Mississippi. I suppose cyclists wouldn’t appreciate me sending car drivers on these roads but the fact is, they were great for both. We took I-90 west to 108 north to Mindon, then VV (not to be confused with W, as I did) to Ettrick, then D, and T to Acadia, then 95 to E to Waumandee, then more E to 88 and my favorite named town – Cream, Wisconsin – and then E again to Alma. You do have to pay attention because these road names/numbers change pretty quickly.
Other issues beyond the more pedestrian ones of cost and location when trying to pick, from a great distance (say the distance between Des Moines, Iowa and Boquete, Panama), a hotel/inn/B&B to stay at in a foreign country:
– SIZE – Is it a better bet to stay somewhere with 16 rooms then somewhere with one room? Or three rooms? That’s the options we’re looking at for the moment in Boquete.
– AMBIANCE – Do we want the relatively bustling-with-people-and-activity “eco-lodge” or the secluded inn that bills itself as perfect for honeymooners (which we are not)?
– AUTHENTICITY – Do we want the hotel that seems to be run by locals rather than the inn run by expats who have set up shop in paradise? Do we want the perhaps more authentic experience of staying at a hotel where we have to struggle to communicate (thanks to our inability to speak the local language) or the relative ease and comfort of staying with hosts who speak our language? Do we want to be travelers or tourists?
This tends to happen – I narrow down our choice of lodging to two options, then am completely torn on which to pick. And I’m left parsing guidebook descriptions and over-analyzing website photos. My choices in Boquete boil down to two places – one a little more upscale and expensive than the other. Do we go for the small inn – only three bungalows spread out across a six-acre coffee farm – for $145 per night, with gorgeous grounds or the larger livelier less-secluded eco-lodge/old farm-house w/16 room on a 500-acre coffee farm- for $99 a night, not quite as gorgeous grounds but still stunning views, with more people around and an on-site nature guide? Oh and one more thing – we’re running up against the non-refundable deposit issue. With the inn, if we have to cancel we’re out $145 (our first night’s stay); the other place doesn’t have that kind of penalty.
So far, I’ve very impressed with visitupnorth.com – which I’ve been using to find a place to rent in northern Michigan this summer. Within a day of emailing the website, a very helpful woman emailed me back – asked a few more questions and prompted produced several viable ideas (both a place that rents by the week and options if we want to stay just a few days) and valuable information (like how far such-and-such a cottage is from town and a public beach).
What did we do before the Internet? Actually I know what we – or I – did. Fifteen-or-so years ago when I was first looking for a place to rent with friends in upstate New York, I called the local newspaper to see what their want-ads offered and I looked at tourism information brochures. The one place I rented came virtually sight unseen – the owner sent me some fuzzy photographs. What a change.
I’ve just cracked open a new vacation-planning effort – a summer trip possibly to northern Michigan. By this time, our summer plans are usually more solid – but with one kid going off to an as-yet-determined college with an as-yet-determined start date, I’ve had to hold off. Now I’m wondering if I’ll be too late to find a place – especially one in the third week of August, which for now (and this could change) appears to be our best bet for everyone to get away. I do have some good websites to start my search: VisitupNorth.com and Leelanau Vacation Rentals.
We are so cozy up here in our tree house near the beach in Manzanita that it’s tempting to just stay put. The bed here is as snug as a nest — a wooden nook built into the rear wall of our room, with a low slanted wood ceiling that has a sky light and windows at eye level that look out onto the main street from top-of-the-tree level. I slept through the night for the first time during our trip.
Manzanita by night – at least last night, a Thursday in March just before the spring tourist season – was very quiet. At sunset, the few people around started migrating towards the beach and we joined the flow. Scattered up and down the beach, people stood quietly watching the fierce yellow sun sink slowly into the ocean, leaving behind bands of orange and pink. A couple of dogs leapt around near the water.
We found lots of people inside the San Dune Pub – most appeared to be locals. Good burger, local beer, fish and chips. Back to our tree house, where I tried out the whirlpool in our room and D caught up with some of his beloved basketball,sitting on a couch near the burning embers (not) of our electric fireplace (the one goofy touch in this room.) Go Jayhawks!
On a spectacular morning, we drove north from Medford on Highway 5 to Sutherlin where we picked up 138 and then 38 west to Reedsport on the Oregon Coast. Beautiful scenery the entire way – through mountain valleys shrouded in fog and cloud, around mountains covered with evergreens (we saw our first logging trucks and clear-cut here) and along wide fast-moving river. The Coast from Reedsport to Florence was almost nowhere to be seen – thanks to a thick section of high sand dunes but by Florence we started to see wild waves lapping onto the shore and crashing into rocks as we drove on a curving road – highway 101 – way above the shore.
Mediocre food at Mo’s in Florence (we decided not to picnic because of intermittent rain) then great scenery en route to Newport – the whole drive took about 5 hours. We walked along the Historic Bayfront in Newport which turned out to be grittier than expected – kind of a mix between a real place (with fishing boats in the marina and big seafood-type warehouses with cool murals painted on the side) and tacky tourist stuff (a wax museum etc.)
We never would have found the restaurant we ate at down there had it not come recommended by some in-laws of my sister in Portland. Saffron Salmon – the restaurant – had superb food: calamari served unbattered with cabbage salad in a lemony sauce, Dungeness crab salad, a fantastic crab and shrimp cake served on wasabi-seasoned coleslaw, with thin, thin frites and Hebi, a fish we’d never heard of. Lovely place, great location with big picture windows looking out onto the bay.
The famous Sylvia Beach Hotel was as charming as expected. A five or so story green wood frame historic building perched above the beach with individually decorated rooms, each honoring a writer (we’re in Emily Dickenson – small but sweet and reasonable – $97 – and an ocean view.) It’s a conspicuously bookish place – no tv, wi-fi (I’m the wonderful Newport Public Library right now), telephones. Just books, games, a third floor library-den with cozy worn chairs in front of big picture windows with full frontal ocean views. Feel a little sneaky using a Kindle there. Fantastic breakfast this morning – all kinds of fresh baked goods, fresh fruit, cereals, juices, granola – and a cooked entree of bacon frittata and grilled bread. We shared a table with a guy from Portland and his sister and her companion from Texas.
Drove a little north to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse – well worth a visit. Climbed on a short trail cut into the green leafy vegetation on a mountain side for a superb view, then walked along a tidal pool laden, oddly, with black cobbles that became smaller stones and then gritty black and white sand resembling fresh ground pepper. I got nabbed by a “sneaker wave” – and left with soggy jeans and soaked sneakers. But the water wasn’t that cold, even though the wind was at times. Great view from atop the lighthouse where we got St. Patricks-day Green buttons announcing our successful climb up the spiral metal staircase.
I’m a bit of a gorge snob after all the time I’ve spent in New York State’s Finger Lakes but the Columbia River Gorge, just east of Portland is nothing to sneeze at. The waterfalls are very different from the ones around Ithaca (see the photo above) but just as spectacular in a different way. I think it may have to do with the scale. The waterfalls we saw yesterday during our drive along the old scenic highway30 were very high and a straight shot down, unlike the Ithaca waterfalls which meander, with the water spreading out across a wide rock face. The Oregon falls were very powerful, thanks to the snow melt and spring rain, kind of the effect you’d get draping a hose over a high mountain and turning the water on full force. At Multnomah Falls and several smaller falls en route, the water came crashing directly downward with furious force, hitting the rocks and pool below with a steady crash that caused water and mist to shoot up.
It’s a sight I wasn’t sure we’d have time to see but I’m glad that rainy weather forced us to take to the car sooner than expected so we had some time to travel along that charming old highway, past heavily moss-coated trees – kind of looked like a green version of andora, or whatever that mythical land is in Avatar. There were surprises along the way including an old observatory with gorgeous marbled stain glass windows and a glorious view of the Columbia River gorge. We ate mediocre – as expected – food at the charming Multnomah Falls Lodge, in a high-ceilinged dining room with walls made of giant rough-hewn grey stones. We made it as far as Stevenson, Wash., crossing over the very cool steel Bridge of Gods spanning the river, and had hot chocolate at a funky little coffee shop – Bahma Coffee Bar.
Our four-and-a-half hour drive south on Highway 5 to Medford turned into a white-knuckle journey about midway when we hit rain and then, all of a sudden, snow flurries as we drove through high curving mountain passes – we for some reason didn’t realize we’d be driving through mountains. Googlemaps doesn’t really fill you in on the topography – or maybe it does and we didn’t think to ask. But during our trip west to the coast, we’ll definitely have to take the mountains into account. And travel by day not eve.
Dirck’s sister D. lives in a lovely 1920’s bungalow on a quiet residential street – with hammocks on the front porch and a beautiful red-and-white camellia tree (bush?) in the yard. The sky is a flawless blue for the first time during our trip and the grass is so green it looks like the set of the movie “Blue Velvet.” A sight for sore eyes coming from grey snowy/muddy Iowa!