Portland, Oregon: Fall Into the Great Outdoors

October 26, 2009 at 10:01 am | Posted in Oregon | Leave a comment

by Susan E. Frost

You may have heard that my hometown (and Oregon’s biggest city, with 500,000 people and 1.6 million in the metro area) has more than a whiff of cool about it these days. True enough, but what I like even more — and what clinches the deal for many visitors — is its scenery, greenery, and water everywhere, in fountains, rivers, lakes, and ponds. Fall foliage season is, to my taste, the most beautiful time to visit, though to yours it may be springtime, when our famous flowers are absolutely riotous. Yes, we do get 200 days of rain annually (FYI: you’re more likely to experience them November throught April).

For locals and tourists alike, Portland is all about the outdoors, from riverside jogging to garden-hopping. ©2009 Susan E. Frost

For locals and tourists alike, Portland is all about the outdoors, from jogging to garden-hopping. ©2009 Susan E. Frost

But what most draws folks here? Not grand monuments and museums (though we do have some pretty good ones, devoted to fine art, kids, science and industry, history, crafts, and, this being the Pacific Northwest, forestry).  More than anything, though, it’s that Portland is such a great place to hang out — experiencing the parks, gardens, festivals, and multi-culti neighborhoods with their hopping nightlife, foodie, brewpub, indie music, and gay scenes — along with the spectacular nature that surrounds us. (Keep in mind, too, that a visit here doesn’t have to be a budget buster.)

For starters, parks and gardens are everywhere. Downtown, the most popular is Tom McCall Waterfront Park, running along the west side of the Willamette River for over two miles (it’s a summer festival hotspot for the likes of the Dragon Boat Races and my favorite, the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival). In the West Hills above town, you can stroll roughly 100 of rose gardens at Washington Park with more than 8,000 roses, including some you’ve never seen before (did I mention that Portland’s dubbed the “City of Roses”?). I also love meditative walks through the serene and beautiful Japanese Garden (some say it’s the best of its kind in North America) and the Portland Classical Chinese Garden. Horticulture lovers will also want to check out the lovely Berry Botanic Garden, Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, and Elk Rock Garden.

And it’s all fairly compact and easy to get around, whether on foot, bike, bus, light rail or streetcar (cheap, too — within a 340-block “Fareless Square,” everybody rides free, and MAX light rail and streetcar fares to other parts of town are very reasonable). Really, though, it’s two-wheeling that has pride of place — Portland’s one of America’s top-rated biking cities, and almost every street has a dedicated cycling lane. Some hotels offer loaners, or you can rent at shops like downtown’s Waterfront Bicycles (from $28 for a half-day; tours also available). Explore the views and paths on both sides of the Willamette, or if you’re up for a challenge, head up, up, up to Rocky Butte’s Joseph Wood Hill Park for stunning 360° views.

You’ll want to set aside time for a couple of day trips. It’s just 90 minutes by car out to the Oregon coast and an hour to majestic Mount Hood, while 45 minutes east on Interstate 84 and you’re in the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, a geologic wonder of towering cliffs, stunning views and waterfalls including the 620-foot Multnomah Falls. Meander south through Washington and Yamhill counties and you’ll find yourself in some of America’s best wine country.

Eats and sleeps? Peruse myriad choices at all price points at TravelPortland.com and PortlandMonthlyMag.com. Let me just say that the past decade has wrought radical improvements. You’ll find all the main hotel chains here, of course, along with several great independents. One is a really cool “new” place right in the heart of downtown Portland: the Ace Hotel on SW Stark Street. Made famous by Gus Van Sant’s film Drugstore Cowboy, this dingy old thing has been completely re-vamped, with hand-painted murals in every room and record players in the suites. Shared-bath singles start at $95 per night and standard doubles at $140. For a delightful and affordable B&B experience in the historic Irvington district, the Blue Plum Inn starts at $94 a night.

The organic and seasonal produce movements, meanwhile, have revolutionized the dining scene. One of my faves is David Machado’s Lauro Mediterreanean Kitchen, a casual East Side bistro with an early-bird special between 5 and 6 p.m. daily, when the yummy cheeseburger, calamari, and daily pizza go for less than $10 (washed down with a glass of local Chardonnay or grenache for just $4). The streets in and around downtown have also become known for their more than 400 sidewalk food carts dispensing goodies of many lands around lunchtime, often for $7 or less per person. One of my favorites is Kevin Sandri’s Garden State Cart, in a lot at SE 13th and Lexington, whose Italian fare is better than some restaurants’ (Kevin’s Sicilian arrancini, breaded and lightly fried risotto rice balls stuffed with cheese or meat sauce, are a revelation).

You know, it can be easy for travel journalists to get jaded about their hometowns. But while roaming around working on my recent book of Portland photography, I uncovered so much more about mine, and I still continue to do so practically every week. And while many Americans may not think of us first, second, or even third when it comes to their next vacation destination, give us a whirl — you’ll be pleased indeed.

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Where Cider Houses Rule

October 12, 2009 at 10:14 am | Posted in Canada, culinary/food & drink, Europe, France, Germany, Massachusetts, New York State, Oregon, Quebec, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, Washington State | Leave a comment

by José Balido

A demo of traditional pouring technique at a gala at the Cider Museum in Asturias, Spain.

A demo of traditional pouring technique at a gala at the Cider Museum in Asturias, Spain.

It’s autumn in the northern hemisphere, and in a few key regions of a few key countries that means apples and cider, both “hard” (mildly alcoholic) and not. While pomaceous potions are brewed — in versions sweet, dry, and downright tart — in countries as varied as Argentina, Russia, and South Africa, in certain fetching parts of Europe and North America, cidre, sidra, and Apfelwein are an integral part of the life and culture. Any one of them would make a juicy getaway indeed. So how do ya like them apples?

Canada: Quebec Though found in Ontario, British Columbia, and elsewhere, in Canada fermented jus de pomme has been a particularly important part of Quebec’s heritage ever since it was brought from France centuries ago (and they keep innovating, as with the relatively recent “ice cider”). A Route du Cidre covers some 30 producers, many family-owned but several run out of Roman Catholic monasteries (Cistercian cider – who knew?). Most are in Montérégie, just south and west of Montreal, and you’ll find the rest in the Laurentian mountains and the Quebec City area (including three on an idyllic isle, Île d’Orléans). CidreDuQuebec.com.

Britain: England & Wales Scores of small and medium producers crank out hundreds of labels worth of cider and perry (its pear counterpart). England’s West Country, Herefordshire, and East Anglia are hotspots, including historic thatch-roofed inns such as Bretforton’s half-timbered, Elizabethan Fleece Inn, Hereford’s Cider Museum, and a Cider Route covering big producer Bulmers and ten others. CiderMuseum.co.uk, CiderRoute.co.uk, UKCider.co.uk, WelshCider.co.uk.

France: Normandy & Brittany Normandy’s best known for Calvados, but also strong in sweet, brut, and semi-brut cidres; the epicenter’s the Pays d’Auge/Calvados region, anchored by the picturesque village of Cambremer and the larger capital, Lisieux. The Route du Cidre here takes in two dozen visitable cidreries. Brittany’s lower on the radar but does some fine work in a slightly different style, served up in colorful ceramic bowls and cups instead of glasses. Its own Route du Cidre in the Cournouaille region covers nearly 40 villages and towns and a dozen cidreries. Besides a wonderful Gothic old quarter, the Breton capital Quimper offers an interesting, apple-oriented Still Museum. Cidre.fr, Deauville-Normandie-Tourisme.com, RouteDuCidre.free.fr, TastyBrittany.com.

Germany: Frankfurt/Hesse & Moselle/Saarland German Apfelwein (aka Ebbelwoi) is on the dry side, and in Frankfurt with its more than 60 Ebbelwohnkneipen (cider pubs), many of them in the Sachsenhausen district, it’s arguably as big as beer; you can also visit Kelterei (cider houses) throughout its hinterland in Hesse, as well as down south in the Moselle and Saarland region bodering Luxembourg. The epicenter here is the town of Merzig, and a Viezstrasse (Cider Route) takes in some two dozen small producers. Frankfurt.de, Merzig.de, Viezstrasse-Online.de.

Spain: Asturias In the green north, the Basques and Galicians put out dry, refreshing sidras, but nobody puts it at the center of their cultural universe and identity quite like their neighbors in the lush, rolling principality of Asturias. Every town has at least a couple of sidrerías, where sidra natural is poured from bottles held high over the head, to “awaken” the fizz (a top sidrería hotspot is capital Oviedo’s hopping Gascona Street). Some of the 110 llagares (cider houses) give tours, and there’s also an interactive sidra museum in the town of Nava (among other things, you can sample a wide range and try your hand at the distinctive pouring method). Visit llagares on your own or book tours through Comarca de la Sidra, which include ancient, atmospheric family operations that don’t sell their output. LaComarcaDeLaSidra.com, Sidreria.com.

USA: New England & Upstate New York There are dozens of atmospheric mom-and-pop cider makers dotting the landscape in all five New England states – some still using old-fashioned steam-powered mills (B.F. Clyde in Mystic, Connecticut) or really old-fashioned rack-and-cloth models like the one at Cold Hollow in Waterbury Center, Vermont. Meanwhile, over in the Empire State, the Hudson Valley just north of New York City is prime apple country, and the Finger Lakes out west is also worth checking out for outfits like Lafayette’s quaint, century-old Beak & Skiff.  NewEnglandApples.org, NYCider.com.

USA: Pacific Northwest Cider’s pedigree here may not be quite as venerable as in New England, but it’s certainly well established, as there are dozens of lovely spots in Oregon and Washington within convenient driving distance of cities such as Seattle (for example, Orondo Cider Works, three hours east) and Portland (Ryser’s Farm and others in the countryside just south of the city). TriCountyFarm.org, WashingtonAppleCountry.com.

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