DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning, United States

Getting Ready for Summer 1969

My Mom's Travel Bible
My Mom’s Travel Bible

TRAVEL BUG TALES: TRAVEL RESEARCH BEFORE THE INTERNET

Hard copy travel information is still very important to me.  I print out all my reservations and tickets, not trusting my phone to deliver on demand.  I read and mark up several travel guides before every vacation and tote them along on my trips.  I will not head anywhere without a printed map, because you never know when your GPS is going to get confused.  However, I do most of my actual research online.  My mom didn’t have that luxury.

The Mobil Guide

The hardest thing for me to throw away when I cleaned out my parents’ house was my mom’s collection of old Mobil Guides.  Though the information in them was totally outdated, the memories of our travels with them are ever fresh.  I was trying to be practical, because I knew I couldn’t save everything.  Now I wish I would have kept at least one.

These guides were her Bible for travel.  She discovered them while we were still making those wild dashes between Georgia and Texas.  My dad had a penchant for getting hungry or sleepy at places that scared my mom and her Mobil Guides were her defense against his whims.

Dad would say, “I’m taking the next exit to find a motel/restaurant/service station.”  She’d say, “No you’re not.  It’s not even listed in the guide.  We’re about X miles from ______.  You can exit there.”  Then she would go on extol the virtues of the town she deemed appropriate.  Occasionally she’d even beat him to the punch.  “George, I think you should stop in _______ for lunch.  After that we hit a stretch of road where there won’t be anything for at least  a hundred miles.  You can fill up the tank there, too.”

When we moved to Texas and didn’t need the Southeastern States edition anymore, Mom started her collection of other editions.  Though I don’t specifically remember her using it on the way to Carlsbad NM or Houston TX, I am quite sure she did.  Our next summer vacation was to Washington D.C. and I do remember her poring through the appropriate Mobil guides for months in preparation for the trip.  Her elegant handwriting filled the margins and listings in the guide had circles, underlining, check marks, question marks and stars.

To Begin at the Beginning

By the time Mom purchased a Mobil Guide, she’d already decided where she was headed.  When it came to choosing a travel destination Mom and I were a little bit alike.  She wanted to go everywhere, so the only real problem was choosing where to go next.  I’m fully convinced that, like me, Mom had 10-12 potential itineraries floating around in her head at any given time.

As to her sources of inspiration, forget the Travel Channel.  All we had were ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS and in Dallas, one local independent channel.  None of those channels had travel shows such as we think of them.  There was Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, which sometimes featured a possible destination, and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, which might mention a National Park, but that was pretty much it.

Print media was her travel source.  The Dallas Morning News arrived daily on our front lawn and on Sundays it included a Travel Section.  Whenever Mom saw something that interested her, she’d cut it out of the newspaper and file it away.  By the time I was an adult, that collection of articles took up a four drawer file cabinet.  The articles from the Dallas Morning News weren’t the only thing in there, because Mom and her scissors found a lot to snip.

For years the only magazine my mom took was Better Homes & Gardens, but once we moved back to Texas and she went to work, our selection of magazines grew.  The first addition to the list was National Geographic, so Susan and I could “use the magazines for school reports.” (Uh huh, sure!)  Then there was Texas Highways and eventually Southern Living.  They rounded out their magazine collection with The Smithsonian Magazine.

I’ll tell you more about Mom and her travel plans for our trip to Washington D.C. in the coming weeks.  Grab your Mobil Guides and join me!

 

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning

European Travel Rick Steves’ Style

Rick Steves at Dallas Travel & Adventure Show
Rick Steves at Dallas Travel & Adventure Show

TRAVEL THERE: RICK STEVES SHARES TRAVEL SECRETS AT TRAVEL & ADVENTURE SHOW

Samantha Brown is my travel celebrity of choice, but I think her fans may be outnumbered by Rick Steves‘ fans – if the turnout at their travel show seminars can be trusted.  A couple of weeks ago I attended the Dallas Travel & Adventure Show and a standing-room-only crowd paid breathless attention to everything Rick had to say.

Rick vs Samantha

Were I given a choice between these two travel celebrities as a personal travel companion, I would choose Samantha every time.  Her love of travel is less pedagogic than Rick’s, which means I think we’d have a lot more fun, but when it comes to providing information for the European traveler, Rick has her all beat to heck.

Let’s face it.  I like glamorous things.  From time to time I watch an episode of Rick’s travel shows and he’s always wandering around backstreets, visiting factories and hanging about in somebody’s home – and for the record, the somebody is usually a nobody.  Meanwhile, Samantha sleeps in five star hotels, eats in swanky restaurants and watches the beautiful people sunbathe on a gorgeous beach.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m interested in those authentic travel experiences Rick urges us to experience, but I want them to be sprinkled among a liberal dose of dazzle.  He started his talk by outlining the limit on luggage his travelers must abide by and I knew I’d never go on one of his tours.  Still, I hung on to my seat and kept taking notes, because he is a fountain of travel wisdom.  He just doesn’t understand the value of the right accessory in ones’ vacation pictures.

Full of Good Advice

The most pertinent thing Rick Steves said was that when it comes to travel, we should learn from the mistakes of others instead of experiencing them ourselves.  He spends four months out of the year in Europe to make all the mistakes for us.  Only a third of his time is spent shooting his episodes.  The rest he devotes to checking out all the research he’s done in the months he’s not in Europe.  Here’s a few of his golden nuggets:

  • Meeting real people on your travels carbonizes your experience, so get out of your car and sit at the bar.
  • Find places with no promotional budget.  Many are just as wonderful and others more wonderful, but you’re mingling with a few natives instead of hordes of tourists:
    • For instance, to see the “real” Germany, cruise the Mosel instead of the Rhine.  The Mosel has the real quaint villages, instead of the faux quaint villages fixed up for tourists.
  • See  the front door attractions, but don’t complain about it when you get there.  Instead stay the night.  The tour buses go back to the fancy hotels and you get to enjoy the real destination.
    • Examples:  Toledo, Rothenburg, Venice
  • Spend extra money to be in the middle of the action.  It’s a better way to spend – see more of less, rather than barely any of a lot.
  • Spend at least half a day in the big city, just to get the feel of how the average person of that country lives – and if you’re already in a touristy city like Vienna, just go over to the modern part of the city.
  • Learn enough before you go to understand the basics.  Such as:
    •  Germany used to be 200 independent states, not a unified country.
    • Understand feudalism before you see castles.
    • Know the difference in architecture from the Middle Ages and the Romantic Age.  The buildings will seem to look the same unless you understand what you’re looking at.
  • Tourist Information Centers have been transformed into profit centers by selling you tickets to tourist traps.  They can still be a valuable source of information, just don’t fall for the gimmicks.
  • Whatever your thing is, pursue it on vacation:
    • Go to church, if you go to church at home.
    • Sports fanatics should go to sporting events.
    • If you nerd out on bones at home, go to a Capuchin Brothers monastery and see what they do with bones.
    • If you sky dive, collect stamps or whatever – bring your passions with you.
  • The package tour industry is feeling a pinch, so expect to spend more time on your tour at shopping opportunities than at attractions.  It’s how the guide makes a living. Don’t be a jerk about it – if you don’t want shopping opportunities, don’t go on the tours.  (Hiring a private guide and paying him NOT to take you shopping is an option.)
    • Also, most land travel companies will put you up in a very American hotel out in the middle of nowhere, so they can sell you an excursion to the actual attraction.  Consumer beware.
  • A good guidebook is a $20 investment on a $3000 trip, so get a guidebook – but be careful, because most guidebooks are lame.  (You can imagine which guidebook he doesn’t think is lame.)
  • Don’t let hysterical news short circuit your brain.  In the last 50 years, 200 tourists have been killed.  There are 1000 people killed every month in the US.  Do the math.  Where are you safer?
  • Don’t stand in bank lines.  Use ATM’s.
  • Yes there are pickpockets, so don’t be a target, and yes, that beggar is a pickpocket.   Carry a disposable wallet with your immediate cash needs in an accessible spot.  Leave the valuables in a safe or wear them in a money belt UNDER your clothes.  Do not access your money belt all the time, then you’re just helping the thieves by demonstrating where your valuables are.
  • When you DO stay overnight at a destination, ask about the paseo.  Most cities have some form of a public evening stroll within their community.  Many of the stroll locales are surrounded by cute cafes offering apertifs that are delicious and affordable – just right for paseo watching.

Seminar?  Advertisement?  Same Difference!

Mr. Steves was pretty transparent about the fact that he’s in the travel business as a profit-making venture.  At the same time, he realizes that most of the people within the sound of his voice are not actually potential customers for his tours.  He said the tours offer “vivid hands-on experiences”, but while they are just right for the right person, they would be awful for everyone else.  I am everyone else.

However, I plan to take full advantage of the resources he makes available to everyone for free.  His website is an encyclopedic resource of information.  I just booked a cruise for April (something he doesn’t strongly endorse), but I’ve already been researching the ports of call on his website.  Plenty there to keep me busy for a while.  I will also buy some guidebooks and will probably include his among my purchases.

His lecture did take a political detour that I could have done without.  He strongly endorses Turkey as a destination, which I can agree with, but not for the same reasons and certainly not because I have a political axe to grind, which it seems he does.  For more information read his book, “Travel as a Political Act.”

So, today I’ve bent your ear longer than usual.  I hope you find some of Rick’s travel tips helpful.  Let me know if you’ve used some of his guidebooks and have found them helpful.  Next week I’ll tell you about Pauline Frommer’s seminar.

Cruising, International, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning

So Many Cruises. So Little Time (and Money).

TRAVEL THERE: SO MANY CRUISES, SO LITTLE TIME & MONEY

Last Saturday I went to a regional travel show which focused on cruising. I had to squeeze it in between a haircut and a funeral, so I didn’t get to sit in on many of the seminars, but even though the show was small in comparison to a show I’d attended several months before, I found plenty of travel ideas and various bits of travel knowledge.

MSC Cruises

My favorite tidbit?  Sophia Loren is “godmother” to MSC Cruises.  One of their ships even has a red suite she uses when she visits.  I like “godmother” so much more than celebrity spokesperson.  That Sophia’s got class.  MSC Cruises didn’t look half bad either.

Azamara

I’m sure somewhere along the way I’d heard Celebrity Cruises were a part of the same corporate entity as Royal Caribbean, but I didn’t know about Azamara and I immediately added it to my bucket list.  Azamara only has two cruise ships and instead of telling you how busy you’re going to be, they focus on the opportunity of doing nothing at all.  The destinations are marvelous and they’re proud of the fact that they stay in port more than just a day, so that you can enjoy nightlife  ashore.

A phrase I heard several times at the show was “truly all-inclusive,” but I heard it first from the Azamara rep.  One of the  reasons we all love cruising is that it’s a great on the budget – at least theoretically.  I’ve noticed over the years (my first cruise was in 1994), the big cruise lines have been nibbling away at the idea of all-inclusive.  On the trip I have coming up, I’m buying a soda card, pre-purchasing my wines to get a 20% discount and we’ll be paying premiums to eat in the specialty restaurants.  Folks, it didn’t used to be that way.

Before the Azamara rep would let go of the gorgeous 2013 Destination Guide, she wanted me to be aware that unlike other cruise lines, Azamara was “truly all-inclusive.”  Page 96 of the guide lists a few of the things they include that other ships will charge you for: gratuities, bottled water, soft drinks, specialty coffees and teas, house wines, self-service laundry, shuttle service  and concierge services.  OK, where do I sign up.

Uniworld

Another cruise line which got my attention was Uniworld, “The World’s Only Authentic Boutique Cruise Line.”  Right off the bat I’d award them the Nicest Rep Award.  It’s not that the other reps weren’t nice.  They smiled and answered all my questions, but I got the sense that they were there under duress. I mean is there really anyone in the world that wants to spend their Saturday behind a folding table handing out brochures and answering the same questions over and over again?  I gave them a pass for tasting like canned chicken noodle soup, instead of granny’s homemade chicken and dumplings.

The Uniworld lady, however, was more like my new BFF who was sharing the best cruising secret in the world with me.  She went even further in her description of all-inclusive.  She said EVERYTHING was included – wines, shore excursions – everything.  She also wanted me to understand what “boutique” meant, so she showed me page two of their “2013 Boutique River Cruises Preview.”  It’s a photo of the chandelier that once graced the iconic Tavern on the Green.  I’m ready to go, just to see the chandelier!

I left the show with a stack of brochures almost six inches high and I’d only heard of about an inch of the cruise lines. I’m going to enjoy reading up on the rest.  I also picked up several DVD’s and can’t wait to watch them.  Who needs to go on a vacation when there’s so much great information to browse?  (Well, me for instance.  A month from now I’ll be in the Western Caribbean.)

Oh, but I told you last week that I went to the show to research freestyle cruising, didn’t I?  Well, that and the seminar information will just have to wait.  In the meantime, what’s been your favorite cruise?

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning, United States

Travel Wisdom from Pauline Frommer

Pauline Frommer considers a traveler’s inquiry

TRAVEL HERE/TRAVEL THERE: PAULINE FROMMER AT THE DALLAS TRAVEL & ADVENTURE SHOW

Earlier this month I visited the Dallas Adventure and Travel Show.  I hope you followed my advice and did the same.   The first seminar speaker I heard was Pauline Frommer of the famous Frommer Guides.  Her talk was chockful of fabulous advice.  I was so busy writing down the websites she recommended I nearly got writer’s cramp.

Travel Wisdom

The biggest ah ha moment?  Well, I’m planning a cruise for next year and I’d always heard you were supposed to book your shore excursions with the cruise lines or you could find yourself on shore watching your cruise boat float away.  If the independent operators made you late returning to the boat, you were just out of luck.

Seems there’s been a change in recent years.  Now there are operators that guarantee to get you back to the boat in time and if they don’t, they will get you to your next destination on their own dime.  Ms. Frommer recommended crusingexcursions.com, shoretrips.com and viator.com.  I’m going to do a little more research on it, because I wonder what would they do if your next few days were actually at sea, but since they recommended the same thing in a cruise seminar later in the day, I’m guessing they’ve worked out the kinks.

Though Ms. Frommer had me nodding my head in agreement with most of her scrimp vs splurge suggestions, on one item I differed with her.  She panned “hop on/hop off tour buses.”  She doesn’t think their guides are any good and feels the time could be better spent.  She also pointed out the temptation to mark an attraction off your list, when you’d only driven by.

I agree that some of the  hop on/hop off trolley drivers are not among the most knowledgeable guides available.  That being said, they usually know more about their route than the average tourist.  Many a time I’ve stumped a trolley driver with one of my questions, but I’m not average.  Few people put as much time into researching their destinations as I do.  For most folks, I think the canned speech is plenty.

These hop on/hop off tours are particularly good if you only have a few hours in a town with a lot of things to see.   The first time I was in London, I was only there for the day.  I planned to come back through later in the trip, but I only had a few hours before heading off to Dover.  I took a bus tour and eagerly listened to the canned schpiel.  Sure, I was coming back and would spend hours wandering through the museums, but using the bus to drive past many of the monuments and buildings was a great introduction to an overwhelming city.  I’ve done the same thing in many other cities very satisfactorily.  It’s better to have driven past the Tower and Buckingham Palace than never see them at all.

Even though a goodly number of these trolley drivers do well to get their canned speeches out, it doesn’t mean that’s the case with all of them.  More times than I have fingers to count, I’ve had the privilege to meet a trolley driver who has deeply enhanced my visit to their city.  Sometimes they have a personal connection to a particular attraction or historical event.  Other times their family has been in the area for generations and they can share local color better than any guide, on or off the trolley.

I also find hop on/hop off tours to be an invaluable tool for another reason.  When I’m in a strange city, finding places to park near the attractions I want to see and fighting the traffic can really take the fun out of a trip.  For instance, when I was in Chicago for a week, I used Gray Line Trolleys and Chicago’s Free Trolley System every day.  My husband was in a training seminar on the north side of town.  I’d drive into the city by myself, park my rental car and then use the trolleys all day long.  The driver’s were very helpful.  I became a regular fixture on a few of the routes and they were anxious to see that I visited everything I wanted to.  They helped me make decisions about what to miss when I was running out of time, warned me about rip-offs and suggested great places to eat.

Overall, I think Ms. Frommer suggested great ways to save money on trips.  However, I also think she’s a seasoned traveler with a lot of miles under her belt.  When you listen to suggestions from someone like her, you have to weigh the information you receive and compare it to what works for you as a casual traveler.  Is it OK to merely drive by the Lincoln Memorial?  Well, of course it would be better to spend some time there, meditating on the life of Lincoln, his presidency and the artistry put into the memorial.  Not to mention, reading everything you could get your hands on and seeing the new movie that’s out.  But it’s also better to say you’ve actually seen it, rather than be in the city and miss it completely.  At least that’s my opinion.  What do you think?

Attractions, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning, United States

Oregan’s White River Falls

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
The Beautiful White River Falls

TRAVEL THERE:  MY FAVORITE FALLS EVER!

Welcome to Oregon! Well, sort of. This past summer my husband and I spent twelve days traveling the state and now I’m sharing the experience with you. I’ll tell you about the attractions we visited, the meals we ate and where we stayed. Maybe you’ll decide you want to visit Oregon, too. Today we’re going to one of my absolute favorite places in Oregon, White River Falls.

How I Found White River Falls

Some of the things I enjoyed most about our Oregon vacation were the ones I found on my own, without a guidebook pointing me towards them.  Places like Crystal Springs Rhododendron Gardens which is almost ignored by all the sources I used, Starvation Creek which I happened upon as I drove along and Maryhill Museum of Art which was actually in Washington, but certainly deserved to be part of my Columbia River experience. White River Falls is the same sort of thing.

As I plotted my route through Oregon, I knew the furthest point east I wanted to visit

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
The ‘This Is It’ Vibe

was The Dalles and my next destination would be Timberline Lodge.  Had I depended solely on the usual resources, I would have missed Maryhill Museum altogether (which would have been a great loss) and I would have never found White River Falls.

With one finger on The Dalles and another on Mount Hood, I scanned the map in my National Geographic/ The American Road Atlas to figure out if there was anything worth seeing along the way.  I saw lots of icons for ski areas, but that wouldn’t do me much good in June.  The travel magazines pointed me towards The Fruit Loop, south of Hood River and I’m sure that’s an interesting tour, but I didn’t  get those vibes that said, “This is it!”

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
Soaking Up the Falls

Squinting my eyes and holding my nose close to the map I saw “White River Falls” and decided to google it.  “One of Oregon’s secret hideaways is located just east of Tygh Valley along Highway 216,” said oregonstateparks.org.  That                                                         sounded pretty good, so I clicked back to images and fell in love.  I had that This Is It Vibe.  (Since my visit there’s been a tragic drowning there at the falls, so the google experience has been dampened.  Don’t let that discourage you from visiting.)

My Visit to White River Falls

So on the day I visited the falls we woke up in The Dalles and spent the greater part of the day

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
Don’t stop your visit here. You’ve just gotten started!

enjoying Maryhill Museum.  Then we headed south on US 197.  The day  turned warm and we commented on how Texas-ish the  80 degree weather was.  At OR216 we turned left, obeying a sign  promising to lead us to the falls.  The only other place I’ve been that felt so completely out in the middle of nowhere was on my way to Monument Valley in Arizona.  As promised we found the very modest entrance to White River Falls State Park.

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
On the way down

There were a few picnic tables sprinkled around the edge of a small parking lot and a pathway led to an overlook of the falls.  I can imagine anyone saying, “Ooooh aaaah,” at this point and heading back to the car, but I’d seen the pictures on the internet.  I was anxious to find the right vantage point and that meant climbing down the hill.

Today, this stretch of White River is just a pretty place to visit, but

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
Antique machinery

until the 1960’s (according to a visitor I met) it was an hydroelectric plant. You could see the dammed-up spillway on your way down and at the bottom  of the hill was an abandoned building full of equipment.  The roof has fallen away and the doors and windows have long since quit trying to keeping anyone out.  We found the old water works to be almost as interesting as the falls were beautiful.

As we reached the bottom of the hill we heard sounds of laughter and splashing water.  Following the sound we discovered a family having a picnic down by the river.  I admired them for carrying their stuff all the way down the hill and they said they did it frequently throughout the summer.  But they were impressed a Texas girl found her way to the park, much less climbed all the way down to the bottom of the falls.  That’s where I learned the history of the location.

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
This is the bottom of the rocky waterside slope which goes about 10-15 feet in the air.

When you get to the bottom of the hill, you still haven’t gotten to the best vantage point.  You have to squeeze in between the side of a rocky waterside slope and the abandoned building, use a large pipe as a balance beam and then start climbing again.  From the bottom it looks like you’ll have to climb one of the rocky towers to get the best view, but once you get over the pipe, you find fairly level ground.  A well-worn path will take you to the best  vantage point. That’s where I planted myself for as long as I could get away with it.

If you get anywhere near White River Falls you’ve got to visit.  I’ve been a lot of places in my life and I still think this is one of the prettiest I found.  If they’d move it to Texas, I’d buy it from the state and build a house where I could sit on the front porch and stare at the falls.

These pictures are just a small sample of what Bill took, but eventually he ran out of angles and aperture

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
Built in 1910

settings, so he was ready to go.  I really didn’t want to, but I had paid-for reservations at Timberline Lodge, so I knew we had to.  I reluctantly dusted off my jeans and headed up.  Beach-side the family offered us liquid refreshment for which we were grateful.

As we went back up the hill I wished I’d asked the visiting historian when the dam was built.  Serendipitously I glanced down the slope and there before me was the answer.  At the top of the hill we explored the upper reaches of the falls, but not for long.  There was road we needed to get behind us.

So go!  Please go!  You’ve GOT to go to White River Falls.  You’ll feel as if you’ve found a magical place.  And if you are fortunate enough to go, please let me know what you think.

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning, United States

Dallas Travel & Adventure Show 2012

Travel Show Hula Dancers getting ready for their performance

TRAVEL HERE/TRAVEL THERE: DALLAS TRAVEL & ADVENTURE SHOW

OK! If you love travel and live in Dallas (or anywhere nearby) take out your calendar NOW and clear this weekend. It’s time for the Travel & Adventure Show.  You heard me.  Do it!

Why You Should Go to the Show

Yeah, I know.  You can sit there at your computer and find out anything you want to know on the internet, right?  Besides, you’ve got the Travel Channel, right?  You don’t need to drive downtown, pay for parking and buy a ticket.

Are you kidding?

Travel isn’t about the information; it’s about the experience.  Experiences don’t happen when your derriere is glued to your desk chair or ensconced on your sofa.  You have to get out there.  Your next travel experience could be waiting for you and you’ll miss it if you stay home.

I inherited my travel bug from my mom.  She grew up as poor as everyone else in McKinney, Texas during the Depression. Vacations weren’t an option.  For her honeymoon she went to Arkansas.  Arkansas?  Really?

For the first eleven years of my life, Mom’s vacation planning skills only required that she get us to Texas from wherever my Dad’s job happened to be at any given time, but after he got transferred to back to the DFW Metorplex, she introduced us to VACATIONS.  At first, she was limited to research in the library and letters to Chambers of Commerce.  Then she discovered Mobil Guides and AAA Trip Tiks.  Then, after my initial stab at college,  I was a poor working girl who couldn’t afford a road trip to Galveston, but my Mom had finally earned her empty nest  and she was ready to fly.  Instead of her paycheck going to new shoes and tuition for the girls, she was going, going and gone.

That’s when she introduced me to travel shows.  Her real goal was to get there herself without having to drive.  She’s pretty timid behind the wheel, has no sense of direction and in those days consumers had no access to GPS’s, yet.  Lunch was usually included, so I figured I couldn’t lose.  The travel shows stirred up the travel bug she’d infected me with back on all those family vacations facilitated with Mobil Guide, Trip Tiks and Chamber of Commerce brochures.  I was hooked.

For me a travel show is like Virtual Search.  I type “what’s out there” into my virtual search engine and instead of avoiding pop-ups or having to wait for sites to download, I’m there.  No online chat, but real human beings without a script.  No need to enlarge the image.  It’s already life sized!

Last year, I saw Samantha Brown, in person.  This year I plan to get over my giddy bashfulness and actually meet her.  Either way, I still plan to become her when I grow up – well, if I ever grow up.

But my own giddy bashfulness was not the only problem I encountered last year at the travel show.  I love my husband and he’s my favorite companion, but he has not been infected by the travel bug.  When he’s traveling, he thinks it’s actually acceptable to waste calories eating fast food or waste time shopping at stores with locations in the strip centers closest to our house, going to movies and taking naps.  He barely even qualifies as a tourist, much less a traveler.  To make matters worse, we had some house guests with us.  I should have known better.  Their favorite attractions in any town are WalMart and the Dollar Store.

But I learned my lesson.  This year I’m taking my best friend who, like me, thinks a perpetual cruise might be a reasonable retirement option.   We’ll try all the Hands On Adventure Activities, deliver our palates to the Culinary Stage, tap our toe to the Global Beats and soak in lectures from Pauline Frommer, Richard Wiese and of course, Samantha Brown.

So will I see you there or not?  Either way, I need to go now.  I’ve got to clear out the box where I was storing all the brochures I got last year, so I’ll have room for those I pick up this year, and I haven’t finished reading about The Best Beds in Botswana yet.

Accommodations, Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, United States

Multnomah County Poor Farm

McMenamins Edgefield, Troutdale OR
The Erstwhile Multnomah County Poor Farm

TRAVEL THERE: MCMENAMINS EDGEFIELD RESORT IN TROUTDALE OR

Welcome to Oregon! Well, sort of. This summer my husband and I spent twelve days traveling the state and now I’m sharing the experience with you. I’ll tell you about the attractions we visited, the meals we ate and where we stayed. Maybe you’ll decide you want to visit Oregon, too. Today’s focus is a slightly funky Troutdale resort caled McMenamins Edgefield.

Setting Out on the Road

Leaving Portland behind on the fourth morning of our vacation, Bill and I headed East to spend a day on the Columbia River Gorge.  I hadn’t anticipated some of our culinary challenges in Portland, but way back in Dallas I’d  decided that I wanted to start our tour of the Gorge with a special meal.  In my research, I depended heavily on DK Eyewitness Travel’s Pacific Northwest Guide.  On pages 90 and 91 is a two-page spread of the “Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood Driving Tour.”  DK Eyewitness suggested that we could do the whole tour in a day.  Good thing I didn’t take them up on that one!

DK Eyewitness used Troutdale as the starting point for the tour, so I googled

McMenamins Edgefield, Troutdale OR
Taking a stroll around the resort

Troutdale to find breakfast.  That led me to McMenamins Edgefield.  “Historic Edgefield, built in 1911 as the county poor farm, is a destination resort in the Pacific Northwest that blends Oregon’s natural beauty with McMenamins’ signature whimsy: original buildings carefully restored with cozy interiors, gardens grown using organic methods, great food and drink, live entertainment and more,” read the home page.  (How could I resist that?)  “On the grounds, you will find an array of diversions. Enjoy our fine-dining restaurant, classic pub, numerous small bars and summertime grill,” continued the home page.”  That sounded like breakfast to me.

Even Frommer’s Portable Portland agreed, “With so much in one spot, this makes a great base for exploring the area.  The beautiful grounds give this inn the feel of a remote retreat, though you are still within 30 minutes of Portland.”  Sold!

McMenamins Edgefield, Troutdale OR
Delicious meals grown right here!

The GPS took us right to the resort and we immediately knew we’d arrived somewhere out of the ordinary.  As we turned on to the tree-lined gravel path, guests wearing terry robes and flip flops meandered along, chatting among themselves with the air of folks who were having a grand old time of it.  We found a parking lot and I pulled out a map I’d downloaded from the McMenamins Edgefield website.  There are ten (count them TEN) different eating and drinking opportunities on the property and you might want to stroll around and visit each one before settling on your venue, but Bill and I were hungry.  The first place we found was the Black Rabbit Restaurant, so we sat down to order breakfast.

Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs, Grilled Steak and Eggs, Poor Farm Biscuits, Smoked Salmon Hash, Corned Beef Hash,
Chilaquiles Tortillas and Challah French Toast Amaretto.  Toto we’re not in Denny’s anymore!  I had the Edgefield Breakfast: “Your choice of Canadian bacon, pork-apple sausage links, pepper bacon or veggie sausage patties; three eggs cooked to order, roasted potatoes and toast.”  Bill had the Challah French Toast Amaretto.  The next hour was blissful, but neither of us could clean our plates.  How does anyone eat three eggs?

“The next hour?” you ask.  I told you, this is not fast food.  I can also tell you that no one at McMenamis Edgefield has ever been or ever will be in a hurry.  So just sit back and enjoy yourself.

After our leisurely breakfast, we made a tour of the grounds.  Yes, there’s a nine hole golf course and also a vegetable

McMenamins Edgefield, Troutdale OR
An Edgefield guest enjoying the environs

garden where they grow much of what they cook.  Many of the buildings left behind from the County Poor Farm days have been re-purposed.  We discovered that all the terry clad guests wandering the property had been down to Ruby’s for their spa treatments.  Other folks were just sitting around enjoying the day.  There’s a sense that you’ve just joined some really retro commune when you’re at the resort, but it’s an utterly charming sensation.

I give a big thumbs up to McMenamins Edgefield.  Someday I hope to spend a few nights there, not just eat breakfast.  A lot of attractions claim to be a “must see,” but this is one you really must see (and taste) to believe.  Our pictures just don’t do it justice.  Come back next Wenesday and we’ll head out into the Gorge.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, United States

Pittock Mansion in Portland OR

TRAVEL THERE: PORTLAND’S PITTOCK MANSION

Welcome to Oregon! Well, sort of. In June my husband and I spent twelve days traveling the state and now I’m sharing the experience with you. I’ll tell you about the attractions we visited, the meals we ate and where we stayed. Maybe you’ll decide you want to visit Oregon, too. Today’s focus is is the Pittock Mansion in Portland.

Visiting the Pittock Mansion

It was raining as we pulled into the mansion’s parking lot and we didn’t want to lug around our new SLR camera, so I reached into my backpack and pulled out my old point and shoot.  That’s when I discovered I didn’t pack any batteries for it.  (So much for good intentions.)

I think Oregon needs to invest in some good PR.  Pittock Mansion is every bit as grand and glorious as the other grand and glorious mansions I’ve seen around the nation, but figuring this out without a lot of research is almost impossible.  On Portland’s own tourism site, it takes several clicks to get to the top attractions and Pittock Mansion is seventh on the list below a book store and a coffee shop.  There is something wrong with this picture.  And speaking of pictures, the photograph on the Portland site wouldn’t excite me to visit the mansion and the other travel guides I read didn’t do much better.

However, historic homes rate right up there with gardens for me, so I wasn’t satisfied with the information I was being fed.  I kept digging.  Still, even after I decided to make visiting the home a high priority, I really didn’t get impressed until I was inside the mansion.  There is no grand entrance as you climb the hill approaching the home.  After buying our tickets in what seemed to be a gatehouse, we were directed to a porte cochere where a nondescript side door provides access.  After a modest entry hall, we wandered into the grand Stair Hall.  Finally, I felt like I was in a mansion.

We were lucky enough to hook up with a tour which was only a couple of rooms ahead of us.  Maybe one of the reasons Portland doesn’t take this grand old lady of architecture as seriously as they should is because the owners didn’t take it very seriously, either.  According to our guide, this lovely Stair Hall was used by the Pittock children as a skating rink.

Another reason for the house’s less than spectacular reputation might be that the architect hadn’t quite figured out how to do homes when he designed the Pittock Mansion in the early 1900’s.  The guide told us the architect had only designed office buildings prior to his commission for the Pittock home.  The way the Stair Hall dominates the house on all three of the main floors demonstrates a similarity to commercial spaces.

Also very commercial is the way the house was set up in suites, instead of having a floor or wing of the house devoted to sleeping spaces.  Since Mr. Pittock was already seventy-five when he started planning the mansion, his girls were married and the children who skated in the Stair Hall were actually grandchildren.  Mr. & Mr. Pittock had one suite and then each of their daughter’s had separate suites which held their immediate families.

In spite of it’s odd configuration, this is a home you should see.  Sadly, Mr. and Mrs. Pittock only lived in the house for a few years after it was finished.  She died four years after the home’s completion and he passed away a year later.  One of their grandsons, Peter, lived in the mansion until 1958, but by 1962 the house had fallen on hard times – or you might say suffered a hard fall.  The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 had hurricane force winds which knocked down trees, which in turn fell on the home, threatening the integrity of its structure.  Had it not been for devoted Portlanders, the home would have been razed.  It took several years to gather the funds they needed, but restoration began in earnest in 1968.

Even if architecture and history isn’t exactly your thing, you still might enjoy the mansion.  Henry was an innovator and a forward thinker.  His bathroom rivals anything HGTV designers dream up.  The views of Portland from the lawn are spectacular.  And it’s only $8.  A ticket to the Biltmore Mansion can set you back $59.

You’ll learn more about the Pittocks as I share more information with you about Portland, but I’ll stop here for today.  Next week I’ll tell you about the Portland Museum of Art.

DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning, United States

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

TRAVELHERE/TRAVEL THERE: MANY DECISIONS TO MAKE IN TRAVEL PLANNING

Before the week is out, I’ll board a plane to Oregon. In December, Bill and I decided to visit the Pacific Northwest for  this year’s vacation.  A couple of months ago in this blog I explained how I arrived at that decision.  Well, since then I’ve been in travel-planning mode.

Doing the Research

As soon as we’d decided on a vacation in the Pacific Northwest, I started doing my research.  My first resource was Pacific Northwest published by Eyewitness Travel, something I picked up at the local Barnes & Noble.  It’s a delicious travel book and within hours of owning it, I’d already marked it up and had sticky notes hanging off the pages.  I like hard copy for travel planning.  Next it was a pair Frommer’s guides, one for Portland and the other for Seattle.  From there I started googling and my printer was red hot for weeks.

Ambitious soul that I am, I was trying to stuff Washington, Oregon and parts of British Columbia into a two week vacation.  Silly me!  Even though I planned to hug the coast and focus on major cities, there was a lot to see. Maybe if we had two months I could have made it to all the places on my wish list, but even then it would be tough.  I was faced with a dilemma.

Twice the Fun

So I planned two vacations.  One was for Washington with a few days devoted to the San Juan Islands and Victoria, British Columbia.  In the other, I focused on Oregon.  I hoped that one or the other of them would capture Bill’s imagination, but I did such a good job he liked both of them as much as I did.

My mother didn’t hesitate a moment.  She lobbied for us to go to Washington and British Columbia.  Her reasoning consisted of a list of all the people she knew who had been on Seattle-focused vacations and how much they’d loved it.  I asked her if any of her traveling friends had been to Oregon.  She didn’t know anyone who’d traveled to Oregon and that seemed to be all the proof she needed to provide in her case against the poor state.

The Road Less Traveled

I love my mom and I hate to disappoint her, but the more she tried to convince me of Seattle’s charms, the more I knew I’d be flying to Portland.  I loved the sound of everything there was to see in Seattle, Tacoma and Victoria, but I longed for the road less traveled.  As I weighed the pros and cons of both destinations, Seattle lost out to the Oregon Trail, Lewis and Clark, Sacajawea and a historic inn at the foot of a mountain with year-round skiing.  I live in a big city with great museums, but I don’t get much in the way of lonely stretches of beach, lighthouses, waterfalls and jet boat river excursions.  Oregon was my dream destination – this year.

Don’t get me wrong.  Washington has a lot of nature to run around in, but there are entirely too many other distractions.  I knew I’d be juggling ferry schedules with museum opening times and the hours at Pike Place Market.  I’d come home as worn out as I felt before the vacation.  It was all well and good for me to say I wanted to focus on nature and take a more relaxing vacation, but I know me.  If there’s a museum within striking distance, I think I’m supposed to go.

Washington, Maybe Next Time

Eventually, I had to share my choice with Mom.  She was not happy about it and she extracted a promise from me that I’d take that Washington vacation at some time in the future.  I faithfully promised that I would, but the more I learn about Oregon, I’m not so sure.  I may just have to keep visiting Oregon.  I’ve planned a twelve day excursion, but I think I’d need twelve weeks in each of the locales I’ll visit to really do the state justice – and that’s just the Western part of the state.

For the next two weeks, I won’t be blogging, but I’ll be thinking of you and I’ll gather enough memories to write a series of blogs that I hope will excite you enough to inspire you to plan your own trail through Oregon.