Monday, January 29, 2018

Out exploring the coast

One of the best parts of living in Portland is the proximity to nature.  The mountains and ocean are both just over an hour away, and there are countless hikes, excursions and fun to be had within an hour.  Recently I joined up with some friends for an all day winter road trip to the coast.  I say a winter road trip, as with less daylight than in the summer, there really is only so far you can go before it's time to head back.  We made it all the way down to Florence, Oregon, a couple hundred miles away.  Man, it was good to see the Pacific Ocean again, smell the salt air and explore some new territory. 

It was my first time at Cape Meares, a well maintained spot with epic ocean views.  We took the hard way to get there, running into a dead end on the road, parking the car and walking the 1.5 miles to the parking lot (access via a different route), and it was well worth it. On a winter day in the NW when it wasn't raining, stretching those legs amongst the tall trees was perfect. 

The Oregon Coast is dotted with small fishing towns, a couple small cities, and massive amounts of open road surrounded by nature.  It's a great drive on the scenic 101, slow, full of turnoffs and places to explore.  Pretty much anywhere has a good view and something worthwhile to check out.  One of the highlights was at a place called Devil's Churn, where the ocean has forced itself through the land over time, churning inwards, creating a canal of frothy, powerful waves several hundred feet towards the road.  Here's a video from there:

Yachats is the coolest of the small towns, full of charm and great old western architecture right there on the beach.  South of there was pretty amazing as well, great ocean views and a good place to watch the sunset.  We had it timed perfectly, and yet it was mighty cloudy and didn't get a visual on the sun or any good colors. Still, a perfect 180 degree view of the ocean was worth it.  We got into Florence just before dark and then headed inland to get to the I-5 and head back to Portland, around 3 hours away (and yes, that was the fast way).  A solid day out and about exploring!

Watching the sunset

Feel the power!

Colorful driftwood at dusk

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Uncle time with Lulu

One of the perks of being back in the US after lots of travels is time with my niece, Lulu.  It's been a blast to see her change and grow in her 9 months.  She's full of life, pretty darn active and is smiling like a queen.  Pretty amazing to have her light up when you walk into the room.  We've been having a great time together and here are a few photos from the last weeks together celebrating life and smiling.
Lulu learns about the iPhone!

Christmas shirt from Lulu: Uncle, The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Fun times on Christmas morning

Friday, December 22, 2017

Santa Time!

With real life Santas around at all the shops, why not switch things up with switching on a Santa light?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Harvest time for apples in the PNW

It's that time again when the apple crops are booming and varieties you've never heard of are out and about.  I love it.  So much flavor, texture, coloring and sweetness to get into, and it's always worth trying out new apples that you've never heard of before.  From past trips to Kygyzstan to research apples with my friend Eliza, to working on an apple farm in Virginia, I've had some great times with apples in the past, and one of the best parts of currently living in the Pacific Northwest is the Apple Festival at Portland Nursery every October.  I've been a few times in the past, and went recently with some friends to get our taste on.

Imagine 60+ varieties of apples with names like Hampshire Beauty, Arkansas Black, Mutsu  and Northern Spy, all cut up, ready for you to work your way through, tasting each one, making notes on sweet vs. bitter, texture, etc.  It's an awesome time, and it's free.  Can't beat that.  And you can't beat that the apples are on sale for .99 cents, mainly from local/regional farms.  Simply amazing.  Life is good when you get to hang out with Mother Nature in the form of apple tasting.

Look who was farming for apples along with us!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Sunny baseball end of summer

On the end of a great trip to visit friends in Santa Cruz, several of us cruised over the hill to Oakland to catch an A's game.  3rd year in a row for this group and it was just as amazing as always.  Great weather, barbecuing out in the parking lot before the game, bleacher seats where you can sit wherever you want and a A's win made for a grand trip.  For such a large concrete monstrosity surrounded by parking lots, I'm a fan of the Oakland Coliseum.  Quite a fun crowd despite the top seats covered off, you always have a good view of the baseball diamond and can get pretty close to the fielders.

A highlight is of course the classic mascots racing around the track.  Ricky Henderson, Dennis Eckersley and Rollie Fingers, with their ginormous heads, race from left field underneath us, out around the bases to right field.  We had prime seats for the start of the race, and Eckersley gave me a shout out as seen in this picture.  I didn't tell him that Kirk Gibson hitting that infamous World Series home run over him is one of my favorite moments in Dodgers history.

And you know we went to In N Out after.  California!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Floating the river

Had a great day out yesterday floating in a river with a bunch of friends.  With Portland pass 90 degrees easily, it was a perfect time to get a float in.  End of summer, warmer water and still enough water to have a few rapids, we made a grand day of it. Here's a little video with sound of one of the ripple down rapids:

Sunday, August 20, 2017


Finland has been awesome. Great people, safe and efficient culture. I'd definitely recommend visiting in the summer for warm weather and sunny days. With my friends we went from the Lahti area nearby the summer cabin on the lake out to student friendly Turku on the west (more of a Swedish influence) down though some small towns like Fiskars (home of the scissors) and to Hangko (seaside town) and then Helsinki. Lots of fun over 10 days with a bunch of barbecues and laughs with the locals. Here are a few photos from the trip:

Friday, August 11, 2017

Tallinn, Estonia

As this trip to Finland is for 10 days and we're sticking mainly to the southern section, there was time to pop down to Estonia on an overnight ferry. It's a quick trip and yet you spend the night onboard, getting off early morning to explore all day before leaving in the evening. For the Finnish it's a shopping trip normally, stocking up on cheap products compared to their expensive country. Jukka, Sini and I have been road tripping around in a car, seeing small Finnish towns so it was time to use the feet and see a city of 440,000. 

We disembarked at 7am to wander through Tallinn. Such a fun, medieval dirt with a great heart and lots of history. Sadly the town doesn't start coming alive til 10am so we had some quiet streets to ourselves. Felt like a Sunday morning. We had an awesome walking tour all over the old city, learning the country's history (conquered numerous times over the centuries and 8 different flags ruled in the 20th century). They're finally independent for the second time (first time lasted 16 hours) and have a good attitude in life. 

The city walls and towers are surprisingly intact for a place that was attacked several times. A major church didn't survive a major bombing and when they wanted to rebuild it, the only way the then in charge Russians would let them, was as a museum to atheism, in an old church. Lots of character around this place. Including their huge freedom tower made of indestructible glass that cracks with the difference between hot summers and freezing winters. 

The old town is fantastic, full of historical buildings, towers, churches and a couple of hills with great views. It's easy to get around and get in some good sightseeing. For lunch we got off the tourist trail and found a Georgian (yes, the country) restaurant and I had one of the best sandwiches of my life. Unbelievable spices mixed in with pork belly and roasted vegetables. Plus the inside section of the restaurant was a staunch reminder of communism with its decoration. Another good spot. 

All in all, it was a great trip to Tallinn. A super fun city with lots to do, buzzing with life in the summer and with cheaper prices than in Finland. The ferry trip is pretty sweet too. Getting your own cabin felt deluxe and the duty free and other shops were entertaining. Solid outing!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Helsinki airport

The men's toilet at the Helsinki airport has full wall pictures of trees and the speakers burst out bird chirps. Great first intro to Finland!

Hiking in the Bucegi Mountains

After the medieval towns, it was time to get back in with Mother Nature. I couch surfed with an amazing Romanian family right at the foothill of the Bucegi Mountains. These are huge mountains that go straight up from the river valley below and are filled with rocks, trees, narrow trails and sheer drops. While these are popular trails for everyone, they cover a lot of height in a short period of time and there is more rock climbing than you would see in other countries. Doesn't stop Romanians of any age from going up there. Quite impressive to see families on a 4 hour difficult trek going up the mountains. 

I'd spent my first afternoon on my own hiking to a waterfall and then higher up for great views. What should have been a 3 hour hike turned into 5 as I tried out a new trail to go back. To put it politely, the trail sucked and even with my mountain goat legs, I had to turn around 35 minutes into the trek. But the scenery all around was amazing. Kind of like Yosemite in California, but with way less people and small villages visable below. Prettty impressive up there and worth the trek. 

Day two, my couch surfer went out with me for a long hike. Way up past where I was, to the top of the mountain to explore. We made good time, speeding up the mountains. On top was an abandoned chalet with great vistas of the countryside below. It's a bummer it's been let go, but other areas became more popular over the years and it is hard to get to. The landscape changes on top of the mountains with wide open meadows and rolling hills with barely a rock. 45 minutes later and we were at the cable car chalet for a well deserved break. No cable car for us today, all legs. Then we checked out the Sphinx, a natural creation similar to Egypt and other cool rock forms. 

The cross, way above the valley is another trek. Keeping those feet moving we reached the gigantic cross made of railroad ties for some of the best views around and lunch. 5 hours of epic hiking and going up almost 2000 meters and putting lots of steps in to get there. A lot of people take the cable car and hike here or there is a parking lot on top, both an hour plus walk away. But the cross was mighty popular and a fun vibe. 

Going down was next. From being up top for hours hiking around, thr towns below looked mighty far away. And they were. We took a different trail, making the trip a sort of loop, not repeating our journey. This section was both the most beautiful and most challenging as the trail was often just barely a half meter wide and over lots of lose rocks. Definitely a place to be careful and watch your step. Of course, this was where we saw lots of families. Crazy. Going up didn't look like fun and for us going down, it was a slow process. It was one of those trails that you look at from afar and think that there is no way you can go down there. But we made it, using chains attached to rocks for support at times, stopping to look up at where we came from in awe. Loving it!