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Summer 2014 Road Trip

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Like most vacations, I can now look back on the road trip Viet and I embarked on in July and remember it as a whole thing. But while it was taking place, each event felt episodic, inspired by the events that preceded it but still able to exist on its own. This is how I’ve chosen to recollect the things we witnessed in the Summer of 2014.

For the most part, we experienced sunny, often hot weather. 99ºF in Montana one day, 45ºF mornings in Yellowstone the next. Occasional light rain during our full day in Yellowstone. I dressed appropriately — light jacket, soccer shorts, hiking boots, with my iPhone for taking pictures and a bag of snacks and Gatorade in the back seat of the LaCrosse.

We drove over 3,300 miles and spent around $430 on gas. Spent only two nights on hotels, one in Salt Lake City (was not impressed with either the hotel nor Salt Lake City) and one in Denver (our first night on town; spent the next two as guests at the Girard residence). Camped two nights at Yellowstone, a place of such beauty and natural serenity I now believe everyone who is able bodied should make a point of visiting at least once in their lifetime, to spend at least one full day with nature. Camping, not RV-ing or staying at one of the lodges, is preferred.

That having been said…

SAC CITY: Start of our journey. Spent the night sleeping on two couches pushed together in my sister’s basement. Woke up with the sun and filled the gas tank with non-ethanol from 1 of the town’s 2 gas stations.

IA-20: Mostly a 2-lane highway west of Sac City. Gentle hills and decent NPR reception on a Saturday morning.

I-29 (SD): A rather bland 75 mph roadway heading straight north. Passed by Vermillion, no reason to stop there.

I-90 (SD): About a thousand bug splats on the windshield, matched by a thousand billboards hawking the wonders of Wall.

BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK: Brief excursion along Highway 240. Takes about an hour to drive through and stop at a few choice turnouts.

WALL: The very definition of ‘tourist trap’.  The Jackalope gag is cute but we didn’t see the huge fiberglass dinosaur. Can get a free “Where in the heck is Wall Drug” bumper sticker at one of the many gift tchotchke shops. Had a delicious buffalo burger at the Cactus Café, despite our waiter botching both of our orders.

RAPID CITY: Stopped only long enough to purchase bug bite relief cream at the enormous Cabela’s off the highway (my first time inside one).

KEYSTONE: Tiny little town at the bottom of a windy highway that attracts tourists like a light attracts bugs. Overpriced motel rooms, crawling speed limits and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Avoid if possible.

MOUNT RUSHMORE: To be honest, I was not as impressed as I thought I would be. If the Crazy Horse monument was finished, I would have gone there instead. If you want decent pictures, come during the morning or early afternoon.

CROOKED CREEK: Several miles west of Mount Rushmore. $32 will get you a campsite and access to bathrooms and showers . An extra $3 will get you an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. Pay both with cash, if possible.

SD-385: we drove the 45 northernmost miles of this 1,206-mile highway that begins at Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas and ends in Deadwood SD. One of the coolest stretches of American highway I’ve ever had the privilege to navigate. Up, down and around the Black Hills in an endless mix of inclines, declines and sharp curves. Highlight was descending along the east side of Pactola Reservoir.

I-90 (WY): white knuckle driving at 80 mph. Occasional road construction. More bug splats on the windshield.

WY-14: Winding high plains road with many hilly fields and little civilization past Sundance.

DEVILS TOWER: Impressive rock formation hidden behind dozens of miles of beautiful Wyoming hillsides. Should be included in any Great Plains road trip itinerary.

SHERIDAN WY: Meh. Ate a late lunch at a Burger King, decided on a whim to escape Wyoming and drive up and through Montana instead.

I-90 (MT): Same 80 mph speed limit, but more maneuverable roadways. Trucks forced to drive slower in the right lane, which makes for easier passing. Beautiful view of the Crazy Mountains west of Billings. Exit at Livingston.

MT-89: beautiful valley route that ends in resort town of Gardiner.

YELLOWSTONE – NORTH ENTRANCE: Be sure to take a picture of the giant stone Roosevelt Arch leading into the park (as there isn’t a similar archway at the southern entrance).

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS: Like a town within the park. Wild animals lounge in the grass along the roadway. Check out the multicolored terraces from both the upper and lower observation walkways.

MADISON CAMPGROUND: 6,806 ft. elevation. Less than $25 per night. Bathrooms but no showers; bear-proof dumpsters, and a fire ring for each campsite. Good luck finding ground that isn’t hard-as-rock dirt to pitch a tent atop of. Park rangers give a nightly presentation at the nearby outdoor amphitheater.

GRAND CANYON OF YELLOWSTONE: My favorite feature of the park. The view of the lower falls and the canyon is best seen from the upper deck at Grand View, but we also stopped at Lookout Point. Didn’t make time for Artist Point or Inspiration Point.

YELLOWSTONE LAKE: With over 100 miles of coastline, it’s the largest high-altitude lake in North America. Deepest point is over 400 feet, and the undercurrent is cold enough (even in summer) to cause hypothermia in mere minutes. Next time I go to Yellowstone I will try to camp at Bay Bridge, on the western side of the lake.

OLD FAITHFUL: A necessity for any visitor of Yellowstone, though it’s not as impressive as other features at the park. A magnet for annoying tourists. I would have been satisfied watching the geyser erupt from inside the dining area of the nearby lodge.

GRAND PRISMATIC LAKE: Steaming beauty. I felt a small sense of reverence walking silently around the site, witnessing a geological formation that by and large has no equal anywhere else on Earth. An absolute must-see for any visitor, far more so than Old Faithful.

GRAND TETONS: Directly south of Yellowstone along the Rockefeller Parkway; check out the entire range from the first lake overlook. Don’t be tempted to stop at the Jackson Lake Dam to take pictures; keep going until you reach the Potholes Turnout or Mount Moran Turnout, or go all the way to the parking lot at Jenny Lake Overlook for superior views. Also, don’t let temporary gates along the walking trails deter you; just sidewind your way down the hillside right to the shoreline, and enjoy the view.

JACKSON HOLE (WY): First city after leaving Yellowstone/Grand Tetons; everything is crazy expensive, especially the gas. Just keep on driving…

CARIBOU NATIONAL FOREST: tied with SD-385 through the Black Hills as the most beautiful route of the trip. 15 to 20 miles through the park and I don’t think there was a combined 1,000 feet of straight road. The pace was leisurely and I didn’t see another car the entire time.

SODA SPRINGS: Plenty of smooth asphalt roads and elongated street lights in the small Idaho town.

I-15 (ID): The geography changes from mountain greenery to southwestern sagebrush. Hot, hot, hot.

NORTHEAST UTAH: An endless sea of cities, concrete and billboards, much like I-5 from San Diego to Los Angeles. 12 lanes of Hondas and Mazdas leapfrogging one another. Set your cruise control to 5 over, stick to the middle lane and plow ahead.

SALT LAKE CITY: Stayed at a Super 8 and dined at an In-N-Out Burger in Midvale. Didn’t have time to take in the Great Salt Lake. Temple Square was locked down for the night but could still see the big white temple from behind the perimeter wall.

UT-6: Some pretty tight canyon driving, though it doesn’t last for long. Local drivers continue to speed by like maniacs on a mission.

UT-191: Desert driving. Long stretches of straight roadway flanked on the east by seemingly never-ending cliffs of eroded rock.

I-70 (CO): A picturesque stretch of up & down roads that largely follows the Colorado and Eagle rivers. Lots of fun curves and tunnels along a 65-mile stretch between Gypsum and Silverthorne.

GRAND JUNCTION: The most disgusting truck stop I have ever set foot inside of. Nearly lost my faith in humanity. Avoid at all costs.

LOVELAND PASS: Take the 216 exit and weave your way up the mountain range to 10,990 feet. Foot paths lead higher up, though I settled for walking over to a nearby snowbank and scooping up a clump of hard snow in my hand… in July.

DENVER: Largest ‘midwest’ city that doesn’t feel too expensive. I don’t think I drove more than 2-3 miles in any direction without encountering some manner of road construction.

PHO 96: $9 bought a bowl of ‘special rare flame mignon’ pho larger than my head. So incredibly %#?@*&ing tasty!

QUALITY INN CENTRAL: The first room didn’t have working A/C. The second room reeked of nicotine despite being labeled a non-smoking room. Slept great in the king-size bed. The front desk was woefully understaffed, the continental breakfast was subpar, and the neighborhood was sketchy. Would not stay here again.

16TH STREET MALL: Free MallRide buses continuously run up and down the pedestrian mall. Illegal Pete’s offers tasty and affordable burritos, with a  full-service bar to the side. Browse the stores at the 3-story outdoor shopping mall or take a tour of the Denver branch of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank. At the bottom of the hill is the awesome Tattered Cover Bookstore (cartography buffs like myself will enjoy the sampling of maps kept in the side reading room); at the top of the hill is the Colorado state capitol building.

BROADWAY: A variety of stores, restaurants, cafes and bars. Several cluttered used book stores (one of them also a coffee shop – great idea!). One of the highlights of our entire trip was seeing “Boyhood” at the Mayan Theater. The décor inside the main theater is amazing.

BROTHERS: Just like the Iowa City one – packed with twentysomethings. The only saving grace were the $1 well drinks.

THE RETRO ROOM: offers more than a dozen delicious vodka infusion shots in flavors such as pickle, pepperchino and bacon. Go here instead of Brothers.

LOWRY BEER GARDEN: hip bar/restaurant at the former Lowry Air Force Base. Three sides of retractable walls. Outdoor and indoor seating. Cedar Falls needs a venue like this ASAP.

TRACKS: $12 cover gets you an evening of deafening club music and black light drag performances. If you ask for water, you will hand over $3 for a 10-ounce bottle. Take it… you don’t want to be rufied here. On a positive note, the bathroom was clean.

I-80 (NE): Tied with I-90 through South Dakota as the most boring stretch of highway driving of the trip. The only attraction of interest was the highway-spanning Archway near Kearney, which we didn’t stop at. Maybe next time.

OMAHA: Nearly 11 years ago I lived here while student teaching, and remember my time there with some fondness. Had I not been tired and hungry from driving all day, I may have turned off the interstate and driven through a few neighborhoods.

I-80 (IA): Some familiar sights driving through Council Bluffs. I don’t remember southwestern Iowa being as hilly as it is.

IMG_2733IMG_2761_MG_3789IMG_2938   _MG_3975


Written by camcarlson

October 19, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Onward with the summer

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I concede I have let this blog drift by the wayside these past few months. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve found a new home with Instagram, but my use of that app remains hit or miss. Much has transpired this summer & I have a weeklong road trip to look forward once I leave work tomorrow. Clothing and personals packed, car gassed up, tires properly inflated, beef jerky and sugary snacks procured, and arrangements have been made for Lacy to be fed, watered and played with each day until our return.


Written by camcarlson

July 17, 2014 at 11:46 PM

Posted in Travel

Intrepid by the numbers

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When I bought the Intrepid I stuck a little pad of paper and a pencil inside the door pocket to jot down data with each gas purchase – date, # gallons bought, price per gallon, total spent and the trip odometer reading. I just tallied up the total amount spent on gas, from the first recorded purchase date (10/31/01) to the last tank of gas (10/16/13). $12,485.47 altogether. That’s enough to buy a new car!

Some random data:
Fuel economy on first tank (10/31/01 fill up) – 21.98 miles/gal
Fuel economy on last tank (10/16/13 fill up) – 21.41 miles/gal
Cheapest gas purchased –$0.98/gallon on 12/18/01
Most expensive gas purchased –$4.00/gallon on 5/19/13
Most expensive total bill – $54.39 (at $3.79/gallon) on 7/11/08

Most miles driven per fill up – 430.1 on 15.70 gallons (27.40 miles/gallon) between 5/16/03 and 5/19/03.
– I drove from CF to Iowa City on a Friday evening, IC to Des Moines early Saturday morning, back to IC Saturday night and back to CF Sunday evening, all on one tank.

2,886.3 miles driven between 7/25/03-8/5/03 (IA to Ohio, then Detroit, then through Canada to Niagara Falls, through New York and Massachusetts to New Haven CT, and back).
1,106.9 miles driven on 8/3/03 alone.

1,739.8 miles driven between 4/4/04-4/20/04 (Cincinnati to DC, NYC, New Haven CT, Allentown PA, back to Cincinnati).

No gas purchased in January 2004 (visited Neeks in San Diego CA that month)

Only two fill-ups between 12/27/04 and 4/1/05 (during my restricted license days). No gas purchased at all in March 2005. It was during this stretch that I watched 156 movies over a period of 28 days, only leaving the apartment I shared with Blake to walk to Blockbuster to exchange titles.

Written by camcarlson

November 29, 2013 at 4:26 PM

Posted in Travel

Omaha Blues

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Here we are at the end of July. This time ten years ago I had embarked on my first solo road trip, traveling east to visit my friends Leah in Oxford OH, Steph in Dearborn MI and Scott in New Haven CT. I returned home for a few short days before moving to Omaha NE to student teach during my final semester of college. I shared an apartment with two ladies who were also student teachers from UNI.

Sometimes I would go out with Annie and Rachel. We had a knack for finding new restaurants to eat at on Fridays. Sometimes we were joined by a couple guys from UNI who were also student teaching in Omaha. Once in a while we’d go out to a bar or club, or go see a movie. We attended a midnight screening of “The Evil Dead” at the Dundee Theater on a Friday night, which just happened to be Halloween. I remember thinking “Annie is going to like this and Rachel is going to hate me for making her watch this” and I made sure to sit between the two. Turns out Rachel broke out in laughter several times while Annie shriveled her face at the screen. I clearly didn’t know my roommates very well.

Sometimes I went out on my own. I liked going to the Dundee because it was one of those older one-screen theaters that often showed independent films like “Northfork” and “American Splendor”. I also caught some good movies at the local AMC on 132nd, such as “Thirteen” and “Lost in Translation”, one of the best cinematic experiences of my life. Very much a “right place at the right time” sorta thing. Once in a while I’d hit up a bar like the 49’r (right next door to the Dundee). One time I stopped in the Ranch Bowl on 72nd St, an oddly wonderful mix of bowling and live music. During November and December I took to ransacking the selection of quality movies at the Hollywood Video branch a few blocks from our apartment.

Anyway… Viet and I have been brainstorming places to see next month and I considered Omaha as part of a road trip that might also include Kansas City and Des Moines. I did a bit of internet sleuthing into the places I used to frequent a decade ago (the cause this nostalgic entry) and learned many of the places I fondly remember from my time there cease to exist! The Ranch Bowl was torn down to make way for a Wal-Mart (typical), the 49’r torn down and replaced by CVS, and I was unable to find any listing for a Hollywood Video branch near Wright Plaza (near as I can remember it being located when I lived there). The Dundee is still “open” though currently closed for renovations.

It’s sad knowing the few places I can remember with any fondness from my time in Omaha no longer exist. It’s not on par with a favorite hangout closing (like Little Italy did, or if the same fate should ever befall the Panther Lounge), but it’s still a bummer.

In my mind, Omaha looks better in the rear view mirror. I know I didn’t have the time of my life when I lived there but over time, like most things, I tend to gloss over the things I didn’t like (such as the early hours and other aspects of student teaching) and only remember the things I did like. But I feel no strong desire to revisit the city. The places I liked going to are gone and no one I knew there lives there anymore. I suspect one of the teachers I taught under may still be around and we had a good rapport, but we haven’t kept in touch at all and I have no reason to seek her out.

Maybe this segues into why I don’t write online much anymore. Writing about my day, or an aspect of it, an interesting anecdote (interesting sometimes only to myself, I suspect) or whathaveyou, is a form of nostalgia. And I guess I’ve gotten so good at living in the present (when I’m not thinking about the future) that I don’t devote any time to recollection or reflection. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Food for thought.

On the bright side, the Spaghetti Works in downtown Omaha is still open. Thank god for that.

Written by camcarlson

July 31, 2013 at 9:46 PM

Posted in Cinema, Travel

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Four Mounds

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Viet and I were invited to a wedding last Saturday. It was held at the top of Four Mounds in Dubuque, right along the northern bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. It was hot and miserably humid that day but that did not deter from the short, touching ceremony for Lauren & Bryson. An outdoor reception followed, where we were seated with a woman who I later learned I graduated high school with (!?!?!). After sunset and a few glasses of Sangria, most of the 40 or so attendees hit the dance floor. Hours past, drinks and Scratch cupcakes were consumed, I alternated between the dance floor and various groups of guests conversing in the darkness to a brief stint behind the DJ table. By midnight a storm front finally rolled in, bringing a much-welcomed cool breeze but requiring us to secure the sides to the outdoor tent and move the beer coolers into the side porch of the Grey House, where several of us continued our meandering discussions into the wee hours of the morning. I made friends with college students from China and Scotland and an RA from Kenya, and around 4 a.m. I finally dozed off in the foyer on a leather couch six inches shorter than myself. We were provided a catered hot breakfast the following morning, then gathered our things and left town.


What stayed with me most, aside from the personal connections, was the beauty of Four Mounds and the Grey House. An excellent B&B that reminds me of what the Mandalay *could* be if the current landlords would invest some serious money and time into the major renovations needed to bring it up to snuff. Since that probably won’t happen anytime soon, the next best thing is to visit Four Grounds and envision that scenic beauty transposed in Cedar Falls.











Written by camcarlson

June 25, 2013 at 10:05 PM

Posted in Travel

2 Days in Seattle

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I think I’ve waited long enough to write something about the second half of my spring break trip. Truth be told, I wasn’t as impressed with Seattle as I was with Portland. The city has a professional business go-go vibe going for it, in comparison to Portland’s more laid back, anything-goes bohemian culture. Lots of hills, lots of walking up and down hills, lots of pedestrians and bicyclists, which all equates lots of very fit people.


This is just about all I knew about Seattle before my visit.

We arrived on Tuesday afternoon, just as it began to rain. It rained all afternoon and all evening, all night, finally stopping Wednesday morning (the first day of spring). That day there was a gale warning in effect, which means winds of 35 knots (something like 40 mph). The wind did not deter me from enjoying the spring weather, temperatures in the 50s and occasional sunshine, much like what we had experienced in Portland, and a welcome respite from Iowa’s seemingly never-ending winter.

Look, green stuff!

Look, green stuff!

Look, a roundabout! And no traces of auto wreckage or bodily carnage! Sensible transportation planning in action...

We observed many cars with drivers of all ages navigating this roundabout with ease.

Like Portland, we opted for non-hotel lodging. We stayed at the 11th Avenue Inn, a nice B&B located in the Capital Hill neighborhood, within a few blocks of numerous shops and restaurants and only a couple miles from downtown. If you go to the link, you can see the room we stayed in (the Citrine room). The place was well worth the money, and it further cemented the notion that I never want to stay at a hotel anywhere ever again. The room had a small television atop an armoire but we never turned it on, and we had no need for the usual hotel “frills”. The breakfasts were delicious; scrambled eggs with ham and mushrooms plus greek yogurt topped with walnuts, granola and raspberries one morning, and fresh blueberry pancakes with blackberry syrup, banana and strawberry slices, sausage links and greek yogurt the next. I highly recommend this place.
















What I liked: the Annapurna Cafe (really good Nepalese/Tibetan cuisine), the (free) view from the observation tower at Volunteer Park and the enormous Uwajimaya grocery store. I was impressed with the massive scale of the QFC on Broadway —  an entire city block of upscale foodstuffs, twice as expensive as the fare found in Hy-Vee, with an upstairs (!!!) alcohol & pharmacy section and a lower-level home supplies section. More hipsters there than I could shake a stick at.


The enormous sake selection. This did not include the “cold bottles” across the aisle.

What I could have done without: the constant rain that turned my socks & shoes into sponges; the Public Market near the waterfront (features the stereotypical fish-throwing vendors and numerous chintzy stores and overpriced restaurants… though I did get a delicious bowl of New England clam chowder at the Athenian), spending more than five minutes inside the enormous Nordstrom on Pine St., or spending any time at all inside the other downtown stores. Oh, and “gum alley”. Disgusting.


This is the rest of what I knew about Seattle: a seafood-lover’s paradise. But where’s the red snapper?

What I would have done differently: I would have gone up in the Space Needle (despite my usual hesitation to engage in the usual touristy activities) and the EMP Museum, and I would have seen a movie at the Cinerama Theater, even if they weren’t showing something in true Cinerama format (which they usually don’t). I also would have taken a bus… any bus… out of the city center and explored some of the surrounding neighborhoods. Something I didn’t really do much of while we were in Portland, unfortunately. Oh well, there’s only so much that can be done in 48 hours.


Late Thursday morning I received both a call from Amtrak’s automated phone system as well as a notice on my iPhone that our departure from King Station had been “adjusted”. A call to Amtrak revealed a minor avalanche had occurred along the tracks on the first leg of our return journey, necessitating bussing us to the first stop at Everett WA. Departure time remained the same. We boarded the nicest, coziest charter buses I have ever been on and left for Everett amidst rush hour traffic. I’m fairly impressed with both the Amtrak app and the Passbook app on my phone; both worked very well in notifying me about changes to my itinerary.

Written by camcarlson

May 6, 2013 at 10:48 PM

Posted in Travel

2 Days in Portland

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Below is my half-ass attempt to finally write something about my west coast trip last month.

As mentioned before, we arrived by Amtrak. I enjoy the nice leisurely pace of train travel and got to see a part of the country I had never seen before, but it was a once in a lifetime experience. That is to say, I wouldn’t want to do it again without good reason. Next time I travel out west, I’m flying or driving, if I have companions to ride with.


Freight train on the opposite (south) side of the Columbia River, Sunday morning, just after sunrise.

We arrived in Portland on Sunday – St. Patrick’s Day. Didn’t do any drinking, aside from the enormous 22 ounce Czech beer with my dinner (more on that later), so I can’t offer any bar or club recommendations. But I know Portland is a pretty good place for local brews.

After checking our bags into the guesthouse we wandered downtown and made our way to the “Saturday” market near the riverfront, which I guess was also taking place on Sunday. Lots of vendors selling homemade arts & crafts items and lot of food carts. I bought a scrumptious lamb gyro for lunch.


Fee fi fo fum

The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around downtown, within the confines of I-405 and the river. Portland is a very walkable city (at least downtown is) but there is also an excellent streetcar service and bus service that seems to run 24 hours a day. We visited a number of parks, including the well-designed Ira Keller Fountain by Clay St. It’s very play-friendly during the summer months when the water is flowing.


Ira Keller Fountain, sans running water.

I cannot say enough good things about the Northwest Portland Guesthouse, where we stayed for two nights. Three old houses have been converted into overnight accommodations, two houses serving as the hostel with a kitchen (free homemade bread & coffee each morning) and the other being the guesthouse. The difference between them is that Viet & I were in the guesthouse and didn’t have to share a room with strangers. We had to share bathrooms with the others at the guesthouse but that wasn’t a problem as there were two downstairs (one with a shower) and one upstairs (with shower). I think only once I wanted to go and they all were occupied, but it wasn’t a big deal to wait and I didn’t have to wait long.


What the Mandalay *should* be.

Our room was great; very spacious, no TV (which was fine with us, we didn’t travel halfway across the country to watch damn television!) none of the usual “frills” of being at a hotel like vending machines or a swimming pool or “continental breakfast”, aside from the aforementioned free black bread and coffee (we ended up walking a few blocks to Trader Joe’s and picked up burritos to make for breakfast anyway), The room had a view of an old gorgeous synagogue across the tree-lined street. It was just a bed in a room, which is all we really needed for overnight accommodations. And for the price and location (only a few blocks from downtown), it couldn’t be beat. We looked up hotels near downtown and the closest we could find under $100 per night was a shoddy three-star joint with some sketchy photos. I highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Portland. The guesthouse, that is… I’m too old and I earn too much nowadays to be sleeping in hostels anymore.


This room was bigger, more stylish and more comfy than most hotels I’ve stayed at.

Dinner Sunday night was at the Fish Grotto, a seafood joint a mile’s walk from our lodging. The décor was okay (the waiter claimed they were remodeling) but the food was absolutely fantastic. Loved the crab-filled mushroom appetizers. A bit pricey though; our meals, plus my hearty Czech beer, totaled $78.

After dinner we walked to Voodoo Donuts and waited in line for about 30 minutes for one of their namesake treats. It tasted alright. Lots of sugar and filling. Their display case had a lot of different delicious-looking options, but I wouldn’t waste my time waiting in line again just for a donut. If you like treats, try it out, but be prepared to wait. We walked by earlier in the day and the line stretched past two city blocks!

Any trip to Portland must include going to Powell’s City of Books. It’s the largest new and used bookstore in the world. Several floors, stairways and aisles of floor to ceiling bookcases to get lost in. I came prepared with a list of book titles and authors to look for, and it still took us an hour to find what I wanted. Without a list, I could have easily spent an entire afternoon wandering around. I picked up a nice hardcover edition of Blood Meridian, a used copy of It’s All About the Bike, and a book of musings by Mindy Kaling (just finished reading; kinda okay). Viet bought Bossypants by Tina Fey, which I will read as soon as he’s finished with it.


Bring a map. Or don’t. Getting lost in here is easy to do, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing…

About all we did on Monday was ride the streetcars, visit the OMSI and go out for dinner. An important notice about the streetcars – there are two lines that run through downtown, NS and CL. The NS line runs NW/SE and loops around Portland State campus, while the CL line stays closer to the Pearl district and crosses the Willamette River to run SE towards the OMSI. I clearly asked the lady at the front desk of the hostel which stop to get on in order to reach the OMSI, city map in hand, unfolded and on display in front of her, and what does she do? She directs us to a stop for the wrong line. GRRRR.


We didn’t figure this out until, oh, about an hour later, when we reached the final stop at the SE tip of the NS line. A maintenance guy who boarded the car informed us we could either ride the car back towards downtown, transfer to the right line (for which we’d need to buy another $1 ticket) and then cross the river, or just walk to the nearest pedestrian bridge and cross on foot. Both options, he claimed, would take about 45 minutes. We opted to walk. It took about an hour. So overall it took two hours to go from our guesthouse to the museum. Blerg.

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is alright if you like kid-friendly displays and IMAX theaters. There is also a decommissioned submarine docked along the riverside. We bought tickets to all three (museum, IMAX and sub) as well as to the traveling Mythbusters exhibit, which was kinda worth it. Overall I think I spent $25-30 on admission. In hindsight, I would have passed on the IMAX and sub tour. They weren’t that great (they were screening “The Hobbit” but not on the day we were there). The museum was okay but most of the exhibits seem geared more towards children and students than adults. To their credit, they have multiple electric vehicle charging spots right in front of the building. Good for them!

Sad to say, the best part about going to the OMSI was Theory, the indoor restaurant. No joke, for $8 I had one of the best burgers of my life. Every bite of the “Mmmm burger” was SO GOOD! Grilled chicken, grape compote, bacon and beer cheese on ciabatta. I seriously wanted to buy another and take it with me to eat later. Viet enjoyed his $5 salad so much he actually did go and buy another to eat! The décor was on par with a five-star restaurant, and oddly enough there was almost no one there, on an early Monday afternoon.


I wanted to check out the Bagdad Café and a few parks on the east side of Portland but we were pretty wiped by the time we left the museum. Took the CL streetcar back over to downtown and we walked back to the guesthouse. I was tired and cranky and upon entering our room I took a three-hour nap. When I woke up Viet has picked out our dinner location, a Vietnamese restaurant only two blocks from our place. Fish Sauce. Pretty good pho noodles and jicama rolls, nice ambience, reasonable prices.

Two days is not nearly enough time to see more than a handful of things I wanted to see while in Portland, which only means I’ll be going back again. Hopefully soon. We checked out Tuesday morning and walked back to Union Station, stopping at an REI store along the way. Nice products but a little out of my price range.

Thoughts on Seattle later this week.

Written by camcarlson

April 24, 2013 at 10:02 PM

Posted in Travel