Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Portland Again, And Again

Trip dates: July 2013 & September 2015

The last time Forest came to Seattle we took a quick overnight to Portland; that was July 2013. We went down on Amtrak on a weekday, which is a treat as you don't have to deal with the weekend crowds at the restaurants and bars. The Starlight line offers great views from its pretty floor to ceiling windowed cars. We brought pre-batched Sazeracs on for breakfast. That's how we roll.

We checked into the Ace Hotel, my first time, and laughed out loud at the massive amounts of hipster vibe that enveloped us. Oh Portland.

First up, lunch at Kenny & Zukes. Pastrami of course. Then a little stroll around the area and a lovely punch at Clyde Common in place of afternoon tea.

When it was time for a cocktail we headed to Hele Pele where delicious tiki drinks were lit on fire with abandon.

Then we had an absolutely wonderful dinner at Le Pigeon. I'd been before but it had been a while and I was so happy to have another fantastic meal there. And I was happy that the foie gras profiteroles were still on the dessert menu!

We finished off our night at Teardrop Lounge which, since it was a weeknight, was just normally busy instead of jam packed! The drinks here never fail to impress. Almost 10 years and going strong!

The next morning we headed to Tasty & Alder for a boozy brunch. Again, no wait, no crowds, ahhhh weekdays!

A little tax free shopping, there are lots of great places around 12th Ave including Canoe,  a quick pack of the bags and we headed back north on the train. A lovely overnight.

Sept. 2015 I headed back down to Portland, honored to be invited to attend friends Jessica and Eric's wedding. My friend Lorraine came with and we made a fun weekend of it.

Amtrak down again, why would anyone drive? We stopped at Tat's on the way to the station and picked up... pastrami sandwiches! It's obviously a theme. A sandwich and smuggled-aboard rosé made for a very enjoyable picnic and ride.

The hotel prices in Portland have gone bonkers. In the past, besides the Ace Hotel, I've stayed at various Kimpton Hotels which are my favorite. This time when I went to book, the Ace was sold out and the Kimptons were over $300 a night. In Portland! I booked us at the Marriott City Center which has a fantastic location and perfectly fine, if a bit boring, rooms.

Lorraine and I went out to explore, she had read about this Scandinavian place called Maurice. Let me just say that this is one of the cutest spots I have seen! We were there mid afternoon and had a great cup of iced coffee and a pastry snack. Great find!

After a bit of shopping we stumbled upon The Green Room while leaving Canoe (obviously this shop is an "always stop at"). We decided it was time for a cocktail in this pretty green hued bar, and chose from their menu of low-octane drinks. It is just downstairs, and owned, by Multnomah Whiskey Library (where we had reservations later that night).

The bar tender turned us on to another newish spot just down the street called Shift Drinks. All the drinks here are pre-batched, the space is huge so on busy weekends you can still get a craft cocktail but without the wait that normally accompanies it.

Next up we had a wonderful dinner at Gruner. I had been meaning to go for such a long time as it was on everyone's recommendation list. Sadly it is now closed but I'm happy I got to dine there!

We wrapped our night at Portland's newest gem, MWL. Believe the hype. This "members only" whiskey den is like being in Charlie's Chocolate Factory, replace chocolate with booze. Members are able to make reservations for themselves and/or their friends. If you aren't a member and you don't know one you can queue up for an available table, they open at 4pm and there will already be a line when you arrive. Or you can try to purchase a Hall Pass through their website. It will cost you a non refundable $25 fee and you have to reserve at least 48 hours prior, but it gets you up the stairs. And you want up those stairs!

I have a very lovely friend who arranged reservations for us, you know who you are- thank you again! We were seated and presented with a lovely complimentary taste of The Feathery Blended Malt Scotch Whisky. A nice way to settle in.

After speaking to us about our interests, our waiter Jordan created a lineup of single batch bourbons and ryes. We had a great time (I mean, how could you not?) of tasting and comparing styles and flavors in this super gorgeous space.

After our tasting we had Manhattans made tableside. And before we left they gave us a wonderful curaçao as a parting taste. A+ for inventory, cocktails, and service!!

The next morning we grabbed a Car2Go and set off for Workshop Vintage. Besides turning us on to Shift Drinks, our bartender the night before at The Green Room had told us this is where we would find the gorgeous mixing glasses made by Bull in China that they used there.

Beautiful glass vessels procured we headed to lunch at Paadee Thai, a suggestion by our bartender at Shift Drinks. He heard us talking about Pok Pok wings and had informed us that there was more than one wing game in town. The wings here are different, and delicious. The menu and service both outstanding. I'd highly recommend it if you are looking for some new (traditional) takes on Northern Thai food. I'll be back for sure. And nice job Portland bartenders at playing the share-your-knowledge- game!

While leaving The Green Room the day before I spied an interesting looking sushi shop next door. Upon checking it out closer it turned out to be a cheese restaurant serving "omakase" style cheese offerings. We headed to Chizu for a little after lunch snack and were thoroughly charmed! They had some wonderful cheeses, many I had never had, and offered both wine and sake as pairings! Brilliant.

It was the evening of the wedding I was here for so I got myself cleaned up, grabbed the street car, and headed to the Eco Trust Building. An absolutely wonderful place for an event! Eric and Jessica had their ceremony on the roof deck, a beautiful setting on this sunny and clear Portland summer day.

After the "I do"s, a lovely dinner, some mixing and mingling, I left to meet Lorraine and two other friends Dave and Debbie at Hele Pele (link above) for some rumminess. After we were tikid'up we headed to the newish Pepe le Moko. We didn't have reservations so there was a bit of a wait, luckily it is next door/underneath Clyde Common so we didn't have to go far to pass the time.

When we went down the stairs to bar I felt like I had entered an underground bomb shelter. The light was very low and the space felt bare except for the bar and the booths. The menu is a bit of a throw back to the cold war era as well, and the drinks arrived on cute little trays like they might have at a soda fountain. They are best known for bringing back the Grasshopper, granted it is their version and has Fernet, but there are Amaretto Sours, Long Island Ice Teas, and Martinis as well. Our parent's drinks, I mean our drinks, were excellent and we all had a great time!

And just like so many last mornings in Portland, the next one was spent having brunch at Tasty and Alder. This time the wait was an hour, we passed it by having wonderful coffee across the street at Heart, before enjoying breakfast cocktails and some seriously good eats. Breakfast cocktails, say it with me.

All aboard Amtrak for the pretty ride home! Portland, if we keep to this schedule I'll see you in 2017!

Lorraine's got a good Portland list also, check it out!

Photos here.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fireworks Over Rio

Trip date: December 2015

Rio likes to party, everyone knows about Carnival and the elaborate fête they throw, but the warm up attraction for the Cariocas is New Year's Eve. Specifically the massive party that is held on Copacabana Beach.

After spending Christmas on Ipanema Beach and hiking around Iguazu Falls in Argentina, I flew back to Rio de Janeiro with my friends on the night of December 30th. We landed at the airport around 8:30pm and the place was packed! The queues for the prepaid cabs snaked the length of the arrivals terminal. Luckily it moved pretty quickly and soon we were on our way to our Airbnb in Zona Sul. It seemed like a lot of people had the same idea as us, flying in the night before the big party, as traffic was a nightmare. 1 1/2 hours later we arrived at our building, found our way up to the apartment, and were greeted by our host who spoke little English but was quick with Google Translator!

We had a spacious 3 bedroom (all with air conditioning), 2 bathroom apartment just 3 blocks off of Copacabana Beach. Perfect!

It was late and we were tired, so we headed down the street to pick up an assortment of pastries stuffed with meat, cheese, and veggies and brought them back to the apartment for dinner before crashing early.

The next day was sunny and hot! We decided to have lunch across from the beach at Garota (they have one in Ipanema that we ate at also); some chilled white wine, two orders of pão de queijo (cheese bread/puffs), and a few excellent fish dishes made for a wonderful lunch. We ordered too much food, not realizing that the entrees were family style portions. No worries, they boxed up our leftovers and we took them back to the apartment.

The rest of the afternoon was spent shopping. First for groceries, along with what seemed like the rest of Rio. Everyone was stocking up for that evening's parties and the next day's hangovers. We were doing the same. One thing is that you can buy hard liquor in most grocery stores, unfortunately we only saw vodka, cachaca, and bad whiskey in most. The lines were insane! One of us stood in line while the others shopped and even then we still waited for 30 minutes!

Next up was Havianna shopping. Haviannas are made in Brazil and everyone wears them everywhere. They are also sold everywhere; newsstands, grocery stores, actual Havianna stores, as well as numerous flip flop shops. And the prices are pretty similar with the exception of some special designs sold exclusively at the Havianna store.  We found a shop called MG Bazar (at R. Silva Castro, 65) that had a really good selection, some good sales, and a little lower prices on certain styles. Havianna shopping completed!

It was late afternoon now and the streets were filling up. People spilled out onto the sidewalk outside of bars, many getting a head start on the night. The city had put up extra garbage cans on every single corner as well. We stopped in a few more shops for last minute items and then went in search of ice.

All day we had seen guys on bikes selling huge bags of ice, it isn't sold in any of the grocery stores we went to, but when we sent Thibault out to look for the bicyclists he didn't come across any. We asked the doorman at our apartment and he pointed us just 2 blocks down the street. There was a small queue and the only thing they sold were 10 pound bags or more, for $10. So we paid for our bag of ice and Thibault hauled it home.

Unfortunately once home we saw that it looked dirty; we googled all the words on the bag only to find out it was not for consumption! We didn't need a bag of bottle chillers, we needed good ice to stir cocktails. Fail.

We filled up the ice cube treys with bottled water, opened a nice bottle of bubbles and had a Skype call with our friends Matt and Vio who are sometimes travelers on the NYE trip. Then we played Exploding Kittens while fireworks started to explode outside. There was a favela on the hill behind our apartment building and the parties there were getting in full swing. You could also hear the sounds of people starting to party down near the beach, as well as see and hear a huge helicopter keeping an eye on things. I have to admit that I felt a tad bit of nervousness mixed with excitement, 2 million people were expected on the beach that night. Seattle has a population of 680,000. So there's that!

Around 10pm we headed off to Copacabana, all dressed in white as is tradition, with a backpack of champagne and fun plastic new year's flutes I had found earlier. The streets will packed with people, also all dressed in white, streaming towards Copacabana Beach. We were a little alarmed to find a firetruck in front of our apartment, apparently there had been a fire in the building next to ours, luckily they had put it out.

The beach was a solid mass of white! Many people had added accent colors to attract different kinds of luck. The one we saw the most was yellow which is for money. We were at the west end and could see the full stretch of the beach. There were a few big stages set up with live music, and the beach vendors who normally ran their stands only during the day, were busy setting up beach chairs and making caipirinhas. Out in the bay, cruise ships were lined up for the big show. People sat on the sand or in chairs, some had lit candles and had dug out little shrine areas in offering to the goddess Iemanja.

Once we had chairs and cocktails acquired, I think we spent about $10 each, Thibault and I walked through the crowds towards one of the big stages to check out the music. Along the way we passed people selling all sorts of drinks, snacks, champagne, and of course bikinis! The area around the stage was packed! Everyone singing, dancing and having a great time. Thibault took this fantastic panorama photo.

It took us a while to get back to our chairs, in fact we only had time for one more round of caipirinhas before it was time to break out the bubbles. 10, 9, 8, 7... Feliz Ano Novo!

The fireworks exploded, the barges out in the bay spread out over the almost 2 1/2 mile stretch of the beach front. They weren't unique in their height or their style but I had never seen such a spread out show before. I loved it!

By the end a haze was sitting right on top of the cruise ships, the night was still and hot. People were having a great time, continuing to party, some jumping waves in the surf, and things seemed calm and safe. Hard to believe with that many people, but we didn't have a single problem nor did we ever feel unsafe.

We headed back to our apartment, mixed up some martinis with our now frozen ice, and looked forward to a new year; out with the old, in with the new 2016!
In the morning we started things with a wonderful breakfast complete with mimosas. So maybe not out with everything old!

Rio photos here

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Aloha, Kauai

Trip date: May 2015

The minute I walked out of the airport the scent of tropical flowers and salty ocean greeted me. I couldn't help but breathe deep; my shoulders and neck relaxing.

The word aloha can mean both goodbye and hello. This was never more relevant to me than on this trip. I was saying goodbye to my old life as I knew it and hello to a new one, where sometimes I would travel all by myself. Not just a day or two on business, or as part of a trip while meeting other friends, but for the first time I was taking a complete holiday solo. I'd have much more time on my own from now on.

Since I had been upgraded to first class and had taken advantage of a lot of complimentary drinks, I called a taxi from the courtesy phone upon landing. After waiting about 10 minutes I was on my way to the north part of the island. The taxi was about a 45 minute ride/$90 before tip; I was happy not to drive the 2-lane road in the dark up to Princeville.

At check in at the Westin Resort I was upgraded to a 1-bedroom villa which included a lovely balcony on the 2nd floor and a peak-a-boo view of the mountains and the main pool. Building 5, I'd ask for it.

Jet lag had me up early the next morning and since it had been well past dark when I arrived the night before I took advantage of my awake status and went on a walk all around the property. Lush gardens and ocean views were exactly what I had signed up for and gotten!

After my walk I stopped in for breakfast (the Westin lets you forgo daily housekeeping in lieu of complimentary breakfast if you choose) and by 10am I was napping at the pool. Heaven.

That evening I took the Westin's free shuttle to their sister property, the St Regis, where I had an absolutely outstanding dinner at Jean Georges' restaurant, The Kauai Grill. They very nicely sat me at one of the best tables with a view of the ocean. The octopus, hamachi crudo, and service were all outstanding.

The couple behind me heard me say I would need a taxi back to the Westin (the shuttle stops at 8pm) and sweetly offered me a ride. I deferred as I decided to order dessert ("peanut buster parfait" -my term only). Sweet tooth appeased and $10 later I was home back at the Westin.

After that I started each day with a nice run/walk around the property and neighboring golf course before sitting down to my complimentary breakfast and mimosa. A quick change into my bikini and I was set for the day. The resort had a few pools; one for kids, one for everyone, and one for adults. I could take my pick and change it up from day to day.

One afternoon I took the complimentary shuttle to the Princeville airport (which is used by private planes only as far as I could see) and picked up a rental car. My shuttle driver and I were tight by then and she mentioned she was going to miss me. I assured her that since I don't drink and drive she would keep seeing me each evening as I headed to the tony bar at the St Regis for sunset.

I drove my cheap and cheerful rental to the absolutely beautiful town of Hanalei. My plan was to visit the farmer's market but it was already shutting down by the time I pulled up (noon) so I grabbed some delicious fish tacos at Tropical Taco and then drove to Hanalei Beach for an afternoon of sand, surf, and sun.

As it is known to happen on Kauai, late that afternoon the sky turned really dark. When I saw the clouds rolling in I high-tailed it back to the resort, pulling in just as a big-ass rain storm dumped. I grabbed a Mai-Tai or two and settled in on my covered balcony with my book. Even when it rains in Kauai it is still 80F+.

I drove back to Hanalei another day to pick up some coffee from the Hanalei Coffee Roasters, a great little spot that roasts beans not just from Kauai but from all over. (Upon searching for their website for this post it looks like they might have closed but still sell their coffee at local shops.) Then, taking a cue from my favorite shuttle driver, I stopped at the North Shore General Store (which is also the corner gas station) on the way back to the resort for Hawaiian chili pepper chicken. My take out box probably weighed 3 pounds and was hella spicy. Get it if you are there, share it if you are two.

On my last day I booked a massage at my Westin resort. I had seen the tents set up outside, overlooking the ocean, on my daily walks. WOW! A massage in an open-air tent with ocean breezes, softly playing Hawaiian music, scents of exotic flowers, blue skies, and a view of the Pacific waters. HEAVEN.

I followed up that bit of indulgence with Mai Tai happy hour at my resort, a shuttle to the St Regis for a stunning sunset and cocktail on their patio bar, and an absolutely delicious sushi dinner at their restaurant Makana Terrace.

Before hitting the road for my hour drive to Lihue airport the next morning,  I had the Westin's Sunday brunch buffet, which isn't included in the comp plan but is very much worth the charge!

There was very little traffic, the scenery was pretty, and I even pulled off at a couple of random beaches for some last ocean views as I made my way south.

I needed a place to unwind and destress, that wasn't overrun with too many children, families, or newlyweds, and the North Shore of Kauai was the perfect place for that. And spring is the perfect time!


All Kauai photos here.

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