Saturday, June 30, 2012

Road Trip Day 2: Oklahoma City, OK

Day 2 was a nice drive across Arkansas and two-thirds of Oklahoma. Both are hillier that I imagined. Arkansas is actually a very beautiful state and it makes sense now, where they get their nickname from, the “Natural State”. It was an easy drive across and as we neared the Oklahoma border, we came across AR Wine Country. Yay! Naturally, I decided that we need a short break, as we had been in the car for about 4 hours or so at that point, and if there was a winery or two a couple of miles off the highway, why not check it out?!

Chateau Aux Arc Winery, Arkansas
The first place we stopped was called Chateau Aux Arc. They had a cute tasting room and gift shop, with nice landscaping for a beautiful outdoor setting. Too bad the 103 degree heat kept us from staying outside for more than the time it took to walk in! They had a variety of wines, all of the grapes being grown in Arkansas. I sampled each that they had in stock and chose the Chardonnay and a sweet Red as my favorites. Since we will be camping in a few days, we will need to be prepared! After this quick stop, we decided that we could check out one more just down the road. We stopped at the Wiederkehr Wine Cellars. All of the buildings were European Chalet style, old dark wood, with lots of flags flying. The wine here wasn’t as tasty as the first place, as many of the wines were sugary sweet in my opinion. I did find a couple that would do, and for around $6/bottle, you can’t go wrong! I also grabbed a Sangria, which will be great on another one of these blistering hot days.
Wiederkehr Winery, Arkansas

After the wine, we pulled over in the shade to make sandwiches for lunch. It was a quick stop, but we had our fill and got back on the road. The remainder of the drive was uneventful, and we made the whole trip in just over 8 hours, stops included. The thing that has been nice, is that the traffic keeps moving and there haven’t been too many cars on the road to impede our progress (knocking on wood….).

Oklahoma City is our second stopping point for this trip. It gives us a decent distance to drive the next couple of days to put us in position to do some fun stuff that we’ve been planning. The “short” day drives also allow us to see different cities and get a sample of what they have to offer, instead of just driving and sleeping and driving again. Not to mention, the food in these cities is supposed to be phenomenal, so we are excited to have the opportunity to have a great meal after conserving our funds by eating out of a cooler for two meals a day.

Cattlemen's Steak House, Stockyards City, OKC
For dinner in OKC, we had a few choices: Steak, steak, steak, or catfish. We decided to head to Stockyards City, the home of Cattlemen’s for dinner. This palce is deceptibly large, and they have a large waiting room upstairs with a bar, that makes you feel like you are at a wedding reception. It was nice though and you weren’t in the way while waiting for your table, which made you feel more comfortable. They told us we would be waiting about 40 minutes, but I think we waited maybe 10 minutes for a table. Once seated, I quickly decided on the Prime Rib special and Jen ordered the Presidential, a 20oz. T-Bone. We both did work on our steak, leaving some of the ecoutraments behind, but enjoying every last, savory bite of meat. It was delicious and we walked out happy and stuffed!

We then headed to the Bricktown neighborhood, more known for it’s bar and nightlife scene in the downtown area. We stopped at Bricktown Brewery, which had a great atmosphere and plenty of seating, but the beer was just average. We then headed around the corner to TapWerks, where they have over 100 beers on tap and many more in bottles. Heaven! We each had a sampler of Oklahoma beers, and then a sour to top off the night. We met a local guy who had lived in Alaska for a few years, and we made some conversation with him. I’ve been to Alaska a couple of times, so we talked about some of the fun places in Anchorage and Girdwood. He also shared some tips about places to check out during the next leg of our trip. There are so many nice people out there, you just have to open up and talk to them!
Tap Werks, Bricktown, OKC

Jen then suggested that we look for Big Truck Tacos, which she had read about and was recommended by a famous chef. Neither of us were hungry, but when in Rome…

So we headed out across the city to find this place. It was a cute joint with lots of multi-colored lights, a walk up order window and plenty of seating inside and out. You could tell that it was probably a popular late-night place, but it had some unique menu items and gave us something else to check off our list! We brought the food back to the hotel and wolfed it down…no hangovers tomorrow! I tried a tilapia-style taco and a veggie taco. Jen had the veggie taco as well and a bbq chicken taco to supplement. By the end of our feast, we were full beyond repair and it’s time to sleep! So many exciting things still ahead…

Tonight we decided to make it in a bit earlier, as we have about 9 hours on the road tomorrow. The plan is to head to Amarillo, stop for lunch, and then finish the trip to Albuquerque. I’m anticipating some long roads, good food, and a smooth trip to New Mexico!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Road Trip Day 1: Memphis, TN

Well, we made it to Memphis! Driving through Illinois is the worst, no matter which direction you go. I know some will argue that southern Illinois is pretty, and maybe I would agree with the last 30 miles or so, but the first 300 suck! At any rate, we made it through the maze of construction, moving smoothly into Missouri. We contemplated the idea of stopping in Sikeston at Lambert's for some "throwed rolls", but decided that we would rather save our appetite for some Memphis BBQ! We were only in Missouri for about 80 miles before sliding into Arkansas, the "Natural State". The weather was good...we were hitting the 100 degree mark, just like our families and friends back in the Chi, so this was a good day to be in an air conditioned car and heading somewhere fun!

We checked into our hotel, which is near Graceland. I would not say this is the best part of town, but since we are trying to keep a budget on this road trip, we cut corners where we could...staying at hotels a little farther from the good stuff, which means that they are cheaper. A modest Motel 6 is not horrible. It's clean...

After taking a few minutes to refresh from the car ride, Jen and I headed downtown towards the Beale Street area. We picked a restaurant called Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous, which has award-winning ribs, local "Ghost River" beer, and a unique location, down a back alley off of Second Street. The food was great! I had a ribs and chicken combo, Jen had a ribs and shoulder combo..both came with slaw and beans. It was awesome. There were two types of sauce, a regular and a spicy. The spicy was by far my favorite, but the dry rub and both sauces made this some BBQ to remember. It was a huge place, even as you enter, you can go up or down. (Go down!) There is a large bar area with tables and then there is the main dining area where you can watch the people work. The food comes hot and fast, so be prepared to eat! We licked the rib bones dry, enjoyed the Ghost River Golden Ale, and left nothing for anyone else to try.

Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous BBQ
When talking to people later in the evening, Charlie Vergos' has become more of a "cool" tourist spot than a great place for BBQ. I'm sure there is a little bit of that all over town, but the food was good, the service was great, and the location was definitely unique. I'd send someone here to check it out.

BBQ Ribs & Chopped Chicken Platter
From the restaurant, we headed to Beale Street to walk off our dinner that was taking over our ability to function (we were SO full!), and of course, have a few drinks. We walked up and down looking for someplace that had live music, which isn't hard to find in Memphis, but we wanted something good...and a place that maybe had people in it?! (It was slow, being a Thursday night...) So we started in a Blues Joint where they served "big ass beers". There was a live blues band, but we were the only people inside. Oh well...we listened and enjoyed our drinks, and happened to make a new friend from New York. He had actually just been at Rendezvous' as well and had some interesting stories to tell! It was fun because we got a lot of great information, more for Jen at this point, on where to go and what to do when in New York. He was friendly, but after his big ass beer, he had to drive up to Nashville for work. That sucks for him!

Beale Street
Jen and I continued our trek down to B.B. Kings, where there was more live music and there were many ladies from the Miss Plus America contest. Interesting...Miss Illinois was standing in front of us for a while, waiting for a table and we wanted to give her props and say hello (support our home state), but we never really had a good chance to not look like idiots in the process, so we just sat at the bar and talked about it for 15 minutes or so. We had another beer, retrieved our souvenir glasses and then headed out the door. B.B. Kings is a cool place, but very popular. You have to get there early to get a spot and the food is a bit pricey compared to other local places with solid menu choices.

Jen ordering drinks at a walk-up bar
From there we headed out to buy a drink on the street. We walked up to the Beale Street Tap Room, which had a great selection of draft beers, bought our beer in the window, and then ran inside to get out of the heat! Once again, live music, which was great...but creepy people at the bar. We enjoyed our drinks, but let the coin decide our next move. On the flip of heads, we headed to the Absinthe Room, which was probably the mistake of the night. Neither of us needed absinthe, but it was fun. We met a guy from Germany, had some great conversation, and then had to make an excuse to ditch him, as he wanted to join us at the next bar...probably wouldn't have turned out good. We wanted to go, but didn't need a chaperone. So we bid adieu and headed around the corner to the Flying Saucer. With over 50 beers on tap, we were in heaven. We also had some giant soft pretzels, YUM! It was a great setting, a fun place to hang out and a place that we wish we had more stamina to enjoy at that point. Regardless, we headed back to the car after one beer and came back to the hotel.

All in all, great start to the road trip and a fun visit to Memphis. For having a long day in the car, and a short time to explore, we did it up!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Next Stop...

In about a week's time, Jen and I will be heading out on our next adventure. We are taking another road trip, this time across the country. We have many stops planned, some camping, some hiking, and lots of fun! Take a look at the stops and if you have any suggestions on "must-see" places, restaurants, or things to do, let me know!

  • Memphis, TN
  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • Albuquerque, NM
  • Grand Canyon, AZ
  • Zion National Park, UT
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • San Diego/Escondido, CA
  • Yosemite National Park, CA
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • Cheyenne, WY
  • Omaha, NE
It's gonna be a good one and I plan on blogging along the way...I'm gonna give this "live" thing another shot and hopefully I can bring you some travel enjoyment and great stories along the way!

Happy Travels Everyone!

Portland, a.k.a. Beervana

Being back in Portland couldn't make me happier. I love this city! (And have thought many times about moving out this way...) It was a rainy drive from Vancouver, but it was smooth and we made it in about 6 hours, not too shabby. We were expecting more rain and cool weather when we arrived, but to our amazement, it was sunny and mild. As we drove into the downtown area near the river, we noticed some Navy ships and a festival of sorts. Another surprise, it was Fleet Week and the weekend of the Rose Parade...more to do than we were expecting! We made it easily to our hotel, checked in, and planned our first plan of attack. Having been in Portland a couple of times before, Jen and I were familiar with the layout of the city and knew that we could walk pretty much anywhere.

Our first stop was the Hair of the Dog Brewery. This brewery is located on the east side of the river, opposite of where our hotel is, but was only a 25 minute walk (give or take). It was a typical brewery that looked like it was built into the garage of an old firehouse. The beer was good and we snacked on a charcuterie plate to keep us afloat. From there we walked to Cascade Barrel House, a personal favorite because they serve sour beer. YUM! Jen and I both had a sampler, and the mom's tried the Apricot beer. They were not as impressed, but I was very happy with the new brews that I tried. The weather was holding nicely, so we decided to make our trek back over the bridge towards our dinner destination, Deschutte's Brewery and Restaurant. As we walked across the bridge, we had to go down a short set of stairs, across a walkway, and up another short set. What we weren't expecting was to walk through someone's bedroom on the way through. I think that shocked Mary a little, but really, none of us wanted to disturb anything, so we moved on quickly.

One thing to know about Portland, is that it is a very free-spirited city, with lots of traveler's and homeless people. Everywhere you turn, someone is asking for money, and when walking around you will pass by many "homes". If you don't let it bother you or your view of the city, you will have a fantastic time. Despite what you may think, Portland is very safe. Jen and I have walked the entire city many times and have never had any issues. People are friendly and helpful and everyone is just there to "be".

On the way to Deschutte's, we made a pit stop at VooDoo Donuts. They are famous for their maple bacon bars, which are AMAZING! This place is small, but the line moves quickly, and there is almost always a be prepared. However, it is one place that you should visit while in Portland...and enjoy a unique donut or three... Dinner was good, and of course we enjoyed more beer. At that point, it has been a long day and we had a decent walk back to the hotel, so we headed back to get some rest.

Day 2

We decided that since we had a car at our disposal, we would head out to Hood River and check out this quaint town that locals rave about. Unfortunately, it was raining the sights were shrouded in clouds. The scenery that we could see though, was beautiful. Mountains and rivers...waterfalls in the hills. It was an hour drive out to Hood River and the sun came out as we pulled into town, so we parked and walked around, checking out some of the cute boutiques and shops that lined the streets. We then stopped at Full Sail Brewery and Double Mountain Brewery. More good's not just in the city! Double Mountain Brewery is fairly new and serves wood oven pizzas that people were raving about. In my opinion, the best beer they served was the "clusterf&$*". (You can put that together...)

On the drive home, we stopped by Multnomah Falls. This was a set of beautiful waterfalls just off the highway. They has some walking paths and a bridge that was right in front of the water. A nice picture stop! We continued back to Portland, parked the car, and walked to a pizza place for a bite to eat. Once again the rain started, so once we were finished and there was a break in the downpour, we hurried back to the hotel.

That evening, the mom's decided to give Jen and I a break....they were headed to Powell's Bookstore, the largest, independently owned bookstore in the country. Jen and I headed back across the bridge to check out some more breweries. (Big surprise, I'm sure!) We set our sights on The Commons Brewery, which is new and only has a small tasting area. When we were about half way there, it started raining again, so we definitely earned those samplers! The brewers were serving their beer, some of which were made from organic materials and were mostly Belgian style beers. From there we headed to Green Dragon, which is one of our favorite beer bars in Portland. They have over 50 beers on tap and many more in there were samples to be had! During our trek to Green Dragon, we heard some loud music coming down the street. As it got closer, we realized is was a pub crawl where the people were traveling bar to bar on a giant trolley, where they all sit around a bar and pedal at the same time. There were neon lights and Micheal Jackson's "Beat It" was blaring from the speakers. The people were all singing and having a great time, so Jen and I cheered for them and kept on trucking. (We need one of those tours in Chicago! I'd be the first to sign-up...or maybe lead the tour...hmm...)

At Green Dragon, we each ordered a sampler and sat there enjoying the ambiance and pondering our choices. This is a great bar to get together with lots of friends because they have lots of party games to play while you sit and drink. As always, we made some friends at the bar, as people always want to know what beer is good and where you come from. As the night wore on and we ordered our second sampler (each), we decided it was time for a snack. We shared some loaded potato fritters, YUM!, and contemplated what else looked good on the menu. We noticed some meatballs with blue cheese covered in gravy (awesome bar food), but decided against it. Shortly after, some guy came up and dumped his meatballs into a to go container. Out of curiosity, I asked if I could look at them. He offered to let me smell them, which was weird...smelling a strangers balls...but I did anyways. He then said that he didn't want them and offered them to us. We declined, feeling bad about stealing some poor guy's balls, but he insisted, so we ate! They were awesome. And who can go home at night and proclaim to their mom that they stole a guy's balls?! So we ate, drank some more, bid adieu to our new friends, and headed back to the hotel. It wasn't too late, but it was an eventful day and we had another just ahead! We did take the time to stop by a food truck (a very Portlandia this to do) a get some late night nachos!

Day 3

It was Saturday, and the last day of our trip. Very sad...but we had lots of things still to do! The first adventure was watching the Rose Parade. It seemed like the whole city of Portland shut down for this event, so everyone was out, and some people even set-up tents the night before to reserve a spot. We walked and watched for quite a while, took a stroll through the Saturday Market (another Portland staple), and watched some more. There were people from all over the country being represented, so it was a lot of fun to be at. We then headed across the Burnside Bridge to Burnside Brewing where we already had tickets to enjoy the Portland Fruit Beer Festival. (Yay, more beer!) There were over 25 beers to sample, so we sipped and shared, and people watched. What a great Saturday! We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the brewery and then headed back to the west side. After walking around downtown for a while longer, we headed back to the hotel to regroup. That evening, we went to the managers cocktail hour at the hotel, then went out for food truck dinners. Jen had a falafel sandwich and the rest of us settled on some great mexican. We took our dinner back with us to watch the Celtics/Heat game. Jen and I had some beer at the hotel to finish, so it was some quality time with the moms, beer, and a sing along to end the night. We had an early flight the next we stayed up pretty late, but we had a stop at VooDoo Donuts to make before heading to the airport!

Time to say goodbye....

We got our donuts, headed to the airport and awaited our departure. This whole adventure had been a blast. All of the cities were similar, yet very different. Road tripping with the mom's was something new as well...Jen and I strutted our driving prowess in two countries and we all made it home alive. It has been a busy week, and I'm excited for the next adventure. I was happy to see this part of the country and I know that I'll be back soon:)

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Well, I didn't do so well on blogging "live", but I will catch up and I'm determined to get good at please bear with me!

Day 1
Vancouver was beautiful! I was excited to go there because it's been on my travel radar for a long time and I love anywhere that has mountains and water. Driving into Canada was fairly uneventful. Customs didn't give us much trouble, I guess we looked innocent enough! I'd say that hardest thing was trying to figure out where the km/hr was in relation to the mph on the spedometer. It felt like we were driving slower, but I'm sure that wasn't the case. Overall, the driving in Canada was great because people swerved in and out of lanes to avoid cars turning left, like it was no one's business, so I followed suit. It made getting down the street, especially in downtown Vancouver, much easier.

I wasn't sure what the layout of Vancouver was really like. I knew that it was on the coast with Vancouver Island to the west. What I didn't really know, was how large and spread out it was. It seemed like there was always a bridge to cross and the different areas of the city were vital to knowing your location and where you needed to head. I drove the whole time we were there, so I figured out the layout pretty quick...and NOW it makes sense!

The first day we headed straight to Capilano. This is a rainforest area in North Vancouver that prides itself on having the highest suspension bridge in the world. It was high. And very "swingy". We walked across the bridge, avoiding other frightened tourists, and headed into the rainforest area. They had a tree top walkway, which was neat. The only downfall was that there weren't many picture opportunities. The trees were so dense, that there wasn't much to see. We walked through the whole park and back across the suspension bridge to the "skywalk", which was neat. It was a clear-bottom walkway built off the side of a cliff. Capilano is not the place for someone with a fear of heights! The thing that was amusing was the description of how the constant precipitation eroded the stones of the cliffside, the same cliffside that the skywalk was attached too...I'm glad we were able to experience it before the erosion really kicked in! We spent maybe 2 hours at Capilano, and for the price, it was a fun activity. I would suggest anyone who is looking for some adventure to check it out, but it definitely is NOT a full day activity.

From there we headed to Granville Island. We had to back-track across the Lions Gate Bridge and the Granville Bridge, argue about directions, and realize that we had to make multiple left turns an go under the bridge in order to make it to our destination. Yikes... Granville Island reminded me of Navy Pier. It was a small area designated for people to walk around into little shops, walk along the waters edge, and stop to eat at the array of restaurants available. We had originally decided to go here because of the Granville Island Brewery. No surprise there I'm sure...(If you've read about my Portland trips...) The Granville Island Brewery was a cute little place, it looked fairly new and very simplistic. What we weren't expecting was that everyone was on a 12 ounce limit. Evidently, they didn't have an actual liquor license to "serve/sell" beer, so they could only sell each person 12 ounces. Bummer. Oh well, it was a good sampler and a decently long walk (exercise is good), and then we were back in our car. We decided to head towards the hotel which was technically in Yaletown. Coincidentally enough, the Yaletown Brewery was close by, so we stopped for some lunch and more beer. The one thing to know about Canada (well, Vancouver anyways) is that although the Canadian dollar is worth about the same as the USD, everything is expensive. Our lunch was fun and we were able to watch some guy climb into a beer fermentation tank in order to clean it...and then watch him climb back out. It was like the fermentor gave birth! We couldn't believe that he actually was able to get in and out of that hole, but he made it and received a standing ovation from us upon his exit. The food and beer were good too! After a hearty lunch (I had beef stroganoff...with pickles?!) we headed to the hotel, which was about 6 blocks away.

That evening, Jen and I set out on a mini-adventure to find a brewery/bar where we could meet some people and have some fun. We ended up going across the street to a place called the "Back Forty". This place had a country feel to it and served BBQ. We saddled up to the bar and were handed very large mugs from the bartender. The best part about theses mugs, besides the fact that they were huge, was that they had a mustache on them, so it appeared as though you had facial hair when you were drinking. Awesome! We also had the fortune of learning about the city from a friendly bartender named Kenton. He was a very good looking guy, who knew how to pour a beer and had the quintessential Canadian accent. We sat there for a couple of hours with our new friend and promised to come back in a couple of nights when he would be working again. It had been a long, successful first day in Vancouver and we needed to brace ourselves for a couple more!

Day 2

It was rainy and nasty outside when we woke up. The hotel had a great continental breakfast to get us started though. We figured that since the weather was so crappy, we would look for something to do inside. Not an easy task in a place like Vancouver where people like to be outdoors. We decided that we would start at the Vancouver Aquarium and play it by ear from there. It was amazing because as we drove toward the aquarium, there were tons of people out, walking around like the rain was nothing new and nothing that was going to stop them from enjoying their day. The kind of people I like!

We got to the aquarium, which was so much fun...except for all of the young school children that were running around. I like kids...obviously because I'm a teacher, but there is a reason that I teach high school!!  Regardless, we went to a 4D movie called Pole to Pole, that discussed the effects of global warming and the different species of animals and sea creatures that lived made up the food chain. Maybe I'm behind the times, but I've never been to a 4D movie before. It was in an IMAX type of theater, and there were lots of sensory effects such as air blowing, bubbles, and sprays of water that made you feel like you were in the video with the animals. It was pretty cool, but the one thing I didn't like was the sudden poke in the back as a shark swam towards and ate a seal. Not cool...  After the movie, we headed out to see the fish and sea mammals. I really wanted to see the sloth in the rain forest exhibit, but we couldn't find him. Sloths truly amaze me and the only time I've seen one is when Jen and I did a bike tour in Costa Rica, and our tour guide managed to spot on amongst the trees in the rain forest.

We then headed outside to see all of the swimming mammals, which are AMAZING! I love seals and otters and they weren't shy about posing for the camera. This aquarium also had Beluga Whales, which are so beautiful and put on a fun show in the rain. I haven't been to the aquarium for years, so this was a  treat.

After the aquarium, we drove out to see the campus of the University of British Columbia. It is said to have the most beautiful campus in the country and it definitely met our expectations. The campus runs along the shore and is adding many impressive buildings. There wasn't much activity, but it was definitely a place to be considered for those looking for a great school in a beautiful setting. It was still raining, so we didn't get out and walk around, but the school was in an eclectic part of town that would have been a great place to go to college. From there, we headed back to Downtown Vancouver to check out another brewery, where we had lunch and a couple of beers. We ended up near the cruise ship port, which was neat. After a solid lunch of halibut and chips, we headed back to the hotel to regroup.

That evening, we took a walk to find Poutine. Poutine is a French Canadian style of food consisting of french fries, gravy, and cheese curds. This was something that Jen has been looking forward to...and was very interesting. I'm not a huge fan of cheese curds, but this would make a great late night snack after a night out on the town.

Later that evening, Jen and I decided to talk a walk and do a little bar hopping in a different area of town. Our first stop was Cambie's. Cambie's is actually a hostel and it was a running joke for us because we "got Cambie's number!". (for anyone who has seen A Night at the Roxbury). It was definitelya cool scene, lots of travelers from all over the world with cheap food and beer. We hung out there for a couple of beers and then moved on to Six Acres. Six Acres was a small venue with an eclectic menu and a wide variety of beer. We had some garlic-parmesean popcorn and sweet-and-spicy wings, along with some fantastic drinks. The server and bartender we super friendly and were willing to answer any and all questions we had.

It was starting to get late and we had a decent walk back to the hotel, but we decided to make a quick stop by the Alibi Room. This restaurant/bar was larger than it appeared from the outside, with a great basement bar. The bar had over 30 beers on tap, so of course it was sampler time! We drank for a bit and as they were closing up, we headed back to the hotel. One great thing about Vancouver, is that it's a safe city. One of the servers at Yaletown Brewery had told us that they were renovating different areas of the city, but that we should feel safe everywhere. We followed his advice and made it back safe and sound. The only disturbance we encountered the entire night was a homeless man spitting at and screaming at some guy that walked past him. We weren't really sure what it was all about, but he wasn't bothering us!

Another successful day!

Day 3

For our last day in Vancouver, we decided to have a little adventure and head to Grouse Mountain. This area is used for hiking in the summer, with a tram that takes you to the top of the mountain for beautiful views, and a wolf rescue area. We also encountered a hike called the Grouse Grind. Many of the locals take this trail for daily exercise. For those of us who are not as in shape as we liked to definitely was a grind! Poor Jen had to wait for me on many occassions, but we made it to the top. The Grouse Grind consists of over 2700 stairs that wind their way straight up the mountain. We were basically on a stair stepper for close to 2 hours. I would say that we earned our lunch that day! Our moms took the tram up and took some photos of us as we reached the top, sweaty and out of breath. Regardless of the time it took, we made it!  We hung out on top for a while and then rode the tram down, getting more panoramic views of Vancouver.

After leaving Grouse Mountain, we headed to Stanley Park. This area is a focal point in Vancouver, as it covers many square miles of park area, with hiking/biking paths, the aquarium, and beautiful overlook/picture stops. We stopped at a restaurant in the park and had lunch, walked around and took pictures, and then drove to the rose garden. The flowers were not all in bloom yet, but it was a peaceful place to walk around and enjoy the sunshine. It had been rainy long enough, so it was great to enjoy some nice weather!

After lunch we headed back to the hotel to shower and clean up after our hiking expedition. For dinner that evening, we went back to "Back Forty" for some BBQ and more beer! Our new favorite bartender, Kenton, was working, and we had to hang out with him again before we left the city. He sent a round of shots to the table, which was very nice...and even the mom's enjoyed them. After dinner, our mom's headed back to the hotel and Jen and I sat at the bar for a couple of beers. It was a nice relaxing evening and we had a long drive the next day. Around 10pm, we headed back for a good nights sleep.

Vancouver was amazing, some place everyone should visit when they get the chance. There are many beautiful things to see and there is much to do. Wonderful few days...and more to come!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Seattle, Washington

Seattle...if you've never been, it's someplace that you should check out. If you have been here, then maybe you can chime in on what you liked and didn't like about the Emerald City. One thing to note, is that Seattle is very "hilly", so walking is more than doable, but depending on where you are headed, could take more time that anticipated. Also, many of the north/south streets are numbered, but sometimes the numbers stop for 5-6 blocks and then pick-up again where they left off. My point--ask how many blocks you have to go instead of believing the improperly scaled maps with streets missing!!

In combination with our ticket for the Space Needle, we also bought entry into the Chihuly Glass Gardens, which were amazing. I didn't know what to expect, but when you are walking around outside of the gallery, you catch glimpses of some of the work and it makes you want to see more. The entire outdoor garden has works of art and there is an inside gallery that blows your mind. Mary (Jen's mom) was telling us that he did a display of chandeliers in Venice, however, after we visited. His work is unique and beautiful, definitely one of a kind and something that everyone should take the time to see. If you don't know anything about Chihuly, take the time (20 minutes or so) to watch the video at the gallery, it gives you great insight into the artist himself and his bodies of work. Gorgeous!

We walked around the area, as there was a science fair and lots of outdoor entertainment in the same area, and it was relaxing. People lounging in the park, taking dogs for walks, exploring the science fair, etc. It reminded us of the "museum campus" in Chicago, but on a much smaller, easier to maneuver layout. Everything here is so green and people seem to really take pride in their city and keeping it clean.

After riding the monorail back to the Westlake Center, we walked (well, hiked) up to Elysian Brewing Company. Jen and I are craft beer enthusiasts (, so we are making the most out of our time on the west coast and stopping at as many breweries as we can drag our mom's to. Elysian is an eclectic brew pub in an alternative area of Seattle. It was very inviting, and great people watching! We even ran in to the "Conspiracy of Beards", which is a men's vocal group that performs the songs of Leonard Cohen. It was very strange, but something you wouldn't learn about if you didn't get out and travel! We enjoyed the beer at Elysian very much, one of my new favorite breweries:) and then moved on. Knowing that it was going to be a long walk, we figured it would be good detox time before the next stop...and slowly made our way down the hill.

We found ourselves at the Pikes Market, one of the famous landmarks in Seattle and the home of the original Starbucks. People were everywhere and you could get anything from flowers to fruit to spices to fresh fish from the famous Fish Mongers at the Pikes Fish Market. This place is known for the "flying fish" which inspired the "FISH! Culture" within some willing corporations. The basic premise, have fun while you work and reward yourself and others for doing something good. I read this book during my last graduate program for Educational I bought their new book "Catch!", which they graciously signed, for my professor who has written me many wonderful letters of recommendation. We also bought cheese, bread, cookies, and fruit for the excursion that we were taking the next day.

After walking around the market, taking pictures, and sampling everything in sight, we headed to Pike Brewery for dinner and more drinks. I was not impressed with their beer at all...and actually couldn't even find one that I wanted more of, but the food was great. I had halibut and chips...amazing! I love halibut, ever since I had it the first time in Alaska a few years ago, I just can't get enough, especially when it's fresh. That's the beauty of the port towns! After dinner, Jen and I headed to Collin's Pub, which was closed the night before.

We were enjoying a nice sour beer at Collin's when the bar back, who happened to originally be from Berwyn, IL (our neck of the woods), told us to never f*** a guy that has no books in his home. Ok, sure. Never really thought about that, but good words of advice I suppose! Then a small bachelor party came in and sat near us at the bar. They were friendly, not near drunk enough, but they did a fantastic thing. The three guys with the bachelor, actually chained (a huge link chain with a massive lock) a bowling ball to this guys leg. It was great because he has to carry this thing around all night and it was always on the bar in front of him. People always talk about doing stupid things like this, and never follow through. A+ for follow through guys! We had a couple more drinks and then headed back to the hotel for the night.

This morning, Sunday, June 3rd, we got up, headed to Seattle's Best and then hopped in the car to head to Mt. Rainier National Park. Unfortunately, Mr. Mountain didn't want to peak his head out from the clouds, but it was a beautiful park. We hiked a trail, about 2.2 miles, to see some waterfalls and get some exercise. We then headed to the "top" of the park where there is 13 feet of snow on the ground, Paradise. This is where you are supposed to get the best views of Mt. Rainier, but the clouds never budged:( People were having snowball fights, some were skiing, other just looking on in awe of the massive amounts of snow and trying to pick our the glaciers on the mountain. We enjoyed our treats from Pikes Market at a picnic table and relaxed. It was quite a drive to get there, the hike was a good hour of exercise (up hill!), and this was our lunch/treat. Shortly after, we headed back towards Seattle.

Once back in the city, we went to see the Fremont Troll. He is very interesting looking and you'd be lucky to get a picture of him without someone else in the way. There are constantly kids climbing all over him! But, it was cool to see and he is holding a real VW look closely! From there, we headed to Gas Works park. This is a cool hidden gem, with great views of the downtown area across the water. People were playing Frisbee and flying kites, which isn't something you see very often! It was fun and relaxed, a very eclectic mix of people and personalities enjoying the beautiful outdoors. The best part of our visit was the trip to the bathroom. As we were waiting for a stall to open up, this older woman walked in with her Pomeranian following shortly behind. The dog walked in, looked at us standing there, and proceeded to walk under the stall door where Mary was using the facility. I immediately started laughing because I could only imagine using a public restroom and being intruded upon by someone else's dog. When the dog saw her, it walked back out and looked at it's owner, who replied "yes, it's occupied". Some people just make you shake your head!

Our last stop of the day was at Pyramid Brewery. They has a decent looking menu, so we decided to make this a beer tasting and dinner stop. The beer was good, much better than Pike's, and the food did it's job. If you haven't tried a Pyramid Brew, I would highly suggest their popular Apricot Ale, YUMMY! This would be a great place to hang out and watch a game as well. It's located right by the Safeco Fieldhouse where the Seattle Mariner's play and near the Seahawks stadium as well...well played by Pyramid!

It's finally time to chill out and take in all that we have seen...tomorrow we head for Vancouver. No plans have officially been made, so suggestions are welcome!!
 Go Seattle!