Oregon

From July 8 – 15, the family went out to Oregon to see some lovely things and to visit with my sister-in-law, Ashley. We landed in Portland on the afternoon of Friday, July 8, and wasted little time in going out into the drizzle of rain to visit a toy store called Fegan’s and of course Powell’s Books, which was magnificent. We pushed our son’s culinary boundaries a bit by going to a Persian place for dinner (his verdict re the beef kabob he ordered was an unexpected “amazing”). Ashley had taken the bus over from her city a couple of hours away by the morning, and we went to the Waffle Window for breakfast (another “amazing” from our son, who had the lovely fruit-laden waffle pictured below).

From there we went to the Chinese garden in Portland, which was nice. We were most taken with the mosaics covering the floor of the place.

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Mosaics covered the ground at the Chinese garden.

We took our leave of Portland for the time being and headed west to the beach at Newport, stopping at the Otis Cafe on the way. It was a cute little (semi-famous?) place with magnificent cheesy hash browns and tasty breakfast and sandwich fare.

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We had a great lunch at the Otis Cafe on the way from Portland to Newport.

I didn’t get many pictures at the shore of Newport beach, but I can report that on Saturday evening, it was chilly and rainy. We dipped our feet into the Pacific ocean (a first for three in our party), and the kids waded a bit more before we called it quits. We swam a bit in the hot tub and heated pool as the rain ebbed, and then we retired for the evening to play games and have a healthy dinner of popcorn and marion berry pie from the Otis Cafe.

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A pretty dreary day at the Newport coast. We had to take 112 steps down a wooden stairway to get from our condo to the sand.

In the morning, we tried the shore again. The water remained frigid, but it was a little sunnier, and we waded and splashed a little before packing up and heading to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse and the nearby tide pools. I grew up going to beaches in North Carolina. A tide pool in my experience had been basically a little pool on the sea shore where you might find a few stranded creatures. At Dog Island off the coast of Florida a few years ago, the kids saw such a tide pool. My expectations of encountering a similar pool on this visit were way off. Here we found stones leading to rocky land in which pools formed offering us views of sea anemone, sea urchins, various mussels, hermit crabs, and a few star fish. It was really unexpected an lovely, far beyond what I had hoped to encounter and a real treat.

As we were leaving, we heard cries that a whale had been spotted, and sure enough, we saw a spout off in the distance a few times. We also passed an overlook from which we could see a few dozen seals lounging and lumbering about in their sealish way, which was a nice farewell bonus. After a yummy seafood lunch a few miles away at the bay, we got back in the van and headed south to Gilchrist, which would be our home base for three nights as we explored Crater Lake and the Newberry caldera.

The cabin we rented was huge and nice, with foosball, ping pong, a pool table (under the ping pong table top), and no internet or cable (a plus in my book). We roasted marshmallows one night and I read aloud to the family each night as is our habit generally. It was a great home base, and I’d love to go back should I visit the area again (and would gladly recommend it to anybody planning a similar vacation).

Crater Lake was breathtaking. The kids grew weary of hiking and generally had kind of a crummy attitude about the lake itself, but it was really beautiful. The trees in this part of the country are a lot different than what I’ve grown up with (not only the bright Ponderosa pines, but the huge pointed pines in general, and the vastness of the forests we drove through), so the short hikes were like seeing nature afresh for me.

The lake itself is so blue that it looks fake, and even in July, you see snow pack a foot or more deep (which the kids did like sort of skating around on). This is a place that makes me wish I were a better photographer, that I knew how to edit my pitiful little phone snaps to bring out the vibrancy of what I saw with my eyes, which has been lost in translation in the photos below.

This takes us through Monday. On Tuesday, July 12, we drove north from our cabin to explore the Newberry volcano and associated parks. First, we went to a lava tube — a cave that in this case was about a mile long carved out by a lava flow whose exterior cooled more rapidly than its interior, so that as the hot lava continues flowing and the exterior stops flowing, a hollow is formed. Although there are restrictions on who can enter the cave because of a fungus that can be spread by people and that hurts bats who live in the cave, we saw no bats. Mostly it was a long, chilly walk in the dark. That undersells it a bit, I suppose. It was neat to see, and to imagine the elemental forces that worked to create such a wonder, but as caves go, there wasn’t much in the way of scenery: A few places where there were pencil-thin stalactites, pits in the ground formed presumably by dripping moisture, and some neat narrowing and widening of the cave, but not as magnificent in terms of scenery as, say Luray Caverns in Virginia. L pouted through the whole walk, claiming that when she saw cracks in the ceiling, she was afraid it would collapse and we would die.

Next we went to a basalt flow nearby, which was neat. After a picnic by the basalt flow, we drove into the Newberry caldera itself, to one of the two lakes contained within. We rowed a sort of excruciatingly and unexpectedly long 35 minutes across to the other side of the lake to try out the hot springs, some of which were very hot indeed. There were a few other people there, but not so many as you might have expected. We tested out some of the little holes dug out already and dug one of our own into the pebbles that formed the beach. I was amazed at how cold the clear blue/green water was even right up to the shore in contrast to how very hot some of the springs were just 3 or 4 feet deeper into the land. The kids liked this a lot. I may have gotten into trouble for farting in one of the springs and blaming the bubbles and the sulfurous smell on the springs themselves.

After a tough row back across the lake into the wind, we drove up to the rim of the caldera, which afforded us beautiful views of the surrounding forest, both lakes in the volcano, and an obsidian flow on one of the interior faces of the volcano.

After viewing the Newberry caldera from its rim, we made the sort of treacherous drive back down and went to an obsidian flow. This was one of the highlights of the day for me, as I imagined a 100-foot wall of lava advancing inch by inch and cooling to leave behind porous pumice and glassy obsidian. A path snakes through the rocks, and it was fun to spot huge chunks of the shiny black rock. L started looking for rocks that would make neat little stone chairs, and she reports this as one of the highlights for her as well. At one point I picked up what looked like a chunk of regular old pumice, but it turned out to be a darker, sharper type, and for the pleasure of looking like a strongman who could hoist a big rock over his head, I bled a lot from one of my palms for the remainder of the visit.

The obsidian flow seemed like the landscape of a dead planet but for the occasional little tree or splash of wildflowers here or there, and the seas of trees flanking the flow. My photos don’t do the site justice.

Wiped out after a very full day, we stopped at a great Mexican place in La Pine on the way back to our cabin and then retired for the evening in our usual fashion, prepared to head back north to Corvallis the next day.

We drove to Corvallis to a soundtrack of Mumford and Sons and the Milk Carton Kids and then hung around at A’s house for a while before hitting the riverfront and then the town for dinner followed by beer (for the grownups) and corn hole on the rooftop of a bar. On Thursday morning, we hit a rock shop in Corvallis to get some souvenirs and then a book store just because before grabbing a yummy vegetarian lunch at Nearly Normal and driving to the Columbia River Gorge, where we parked and hiked to 5 or 6 waterfalls.

We wrapped up our waterfall tour (several falls not pictured above) with ice cream cones and a drive back to Portland, where we relaxed a bit and ordered in some pizza before sending Ashley home on a shuttle and going to bed to travel home in the morning.

Although L had flown before when she was 8 or 9 months old, neither kid had really flown before, so this was sort of a landmark trip for them. They enjoyed the flights and the train ride between terminals at our connection home at DFW. In addition to the many miles we traveled by air, we drove 991 miles in a rented van as we toured the eastern third or so of Oregon. It was a great trip, affording us the opportunity to see many things very very different from what we’re accustomed to seeing in our day-to-day lives.

Las Palmas

My team at work spent a few days last week at Las Palmas, on Gran Canaria — one of the canary islands. The islands are part of Spain but are geographically much closer to the northwest coast of Africa. For some reason, the airfare from my home airport was outlandish, so I drove to Charlotte, then flew through JFK to Madrid and then on to Las Palmas and more or less reversed the sequence (with some complications) on the way home, which was not altogether fun.

The city was mostly unremarkable to me — just sort of a standard city with lots of one-way streets and crazy parking (like on the sidewalk, straddling a corner, or at times even double parked). It was my first time driving outside of the U.S., which made me pretty nervous.

Most of the cities I’ve visited outside of the U.S. were pretty English friendly, but here very few people spoke English, so I often felt like a big, helpless, boorish, American baby. It didn’t help that I’ve been familiar with French more recently than I have Spanish, so when I did try to speak — even just to apologize for being a dumb American or to communicate other simple things, I often enough did so in a strange English-Spanish-French pidgin. Luckily, one of our guest attendees from a different team was a native of Argentina wonderfully fluent in both English and Spanish and was able to help us navigate meals and other transactions with the locals. Most of the time, he would just order plates of various foods for the table, so we had lots of variety, and it was all really good. We ate various rice dishes, lots of seafood of many types (squid, prawns, snails, clams, several fishes, octopus, and likely others I’m forgetting), and wrinkled potatoes with just about every meal. It was really some of the most consistently yummy food I’ve had at a meetup, and it was very inexpensive to boot.

Some of my colleagues had hoped to do some surfing or snorkeling while we were there (we worked at a place catering to such outings called The Surf Office, which was featured in the New York Times while we were there, complete with pictures of our team and some others who were sharing the space with us), but weather and scheduling stood in the way of those plans. Our main venture as tourists was to visit the Caldera de Bandama, a volcanic caldera. There’s a steep path down into the basin of the inactive volcano, where a working farm is currently situated along with some abandoned buildings. It was really neat, and the trip back up out of the volcano highlighted how seriously out of shape I’ve let myself get.

We got some good work done on the trip, and for me, the tourism to work ratio was about right, so the trip itself was very good, though I could certainly have done with less travel at both ends of the trip.

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Cardiff

In April, I went to Cardiff, Wales to do work on a project for my job. We got lots of work done but also did a fair amount of tourism. The coolest thing for me was visiting the Doctor Who experience and seeing lots of props from the show. We also visited a castle (some went to a second, apparently more impressive, castle). There were lots of gardens, and the city itself was pretty happening. One night we went to Chippy Lane, which is where one goes to get fish and chips when really terrifically drunk. We weren’t terrifically drunk, but it was a neat experience nevertheless. Here are a few photos from the trip.

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Mexico

I spent last week in Mexico with a couple of other small teams from work. It rained a bit and was otherwise super humid, but we had some great weather as well, and some memorable meals. We took one day off to drive a few hours to Chichèn Itzá, a well-known Mayan temple that did not disappoint. I took precious few pictures during the trip but did snap a few of the ruins. Because I don’t like taking pictures of strangers (not much enjoying having my picture taken, especially not by strangers), I didn’t take any photos of the shockingly numerous vendors of trinkets. Dozens of people hawked things like magnets, wooden masks, and jewelry, and everywhere their refrains rang out: “one dollar” and “almost free.” One guy even gave me the nickname “Mr. Whiskers.”

Lisbon

I’ve just returned from meeting up with some coworkers in Lisbon, Portugal. It’s the prettiest city I’ve been to. I loved how the terra cotta roofs contrasted with the colors of the buildings, the greenery, and the sky.

It’s a pretty easy city to get around in. Taxis are surprisingly cheap and the drivers actually give you change, though they often seem not to know where your desired location is until they have an epiphany partway there. You tell or show them the address and they more often than not give you a long puzzled look. Occasionally they’ll consult a book that helps them out. Then they tear ass toward your destination, whipping around the streets, tailgating trolleys, and narrowly avoiding pedestrians. In spite of apparent confusion and the distinct impression that the drivers are just wandering to find the place sometimes, the fares still wind up being cheap. The ride is also generally somewhat Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride-ish.

We went to the aquarium, which was pretty nice but which I didn’t bother to take many photos of thanks to lighting and the sort of universality of aquariums. We also went to the Castle of São Jorge, which was really neat. After wrapping up at the castle, several of us wandered the old city for a few hours. Near the end of the trip, I stopped by the Estrela Basilica just a couple of blocks from our house, but I took no pictures of the interior because it was quiet and being an obnoxious American tourist there felt inappropriate. It was beautiful inside but also seemed somehow more used, more dingy, than some similar buildings I’ve visited.

We ate at several pretty good restaurants that were mostly reasonably priced. Cod is the thing to get if you’re into fish, though I heard from a native that they import most of their cod from Norway. Wine is absurdly cheap and pretty good. We bought plenty of bottles of utterly decent wine for two to three Euro each (less than four bucks).

Jerusalem

I visited Jerusalem on a recent trip with coworkers. Although I’m not religious, it was still a neat experience. Lots of history. My photos follow.

The Dead Sea

Some coworkers and I went to the Dead Sea while on a team meetup in Israel. My lower body’s too dense to float under normal circumstances (my legs just sink… like… stones), but I was assured I’d float here. And I did! It was such a funny sensation to wade out, squat, and feel my body rotate backwards as my legs sprang involuntarily up to the surface of the water.

The floor of the sea is covered with really goopy, dark greenish mud, and people actually rub the mud on their skin for (I presume) restorative purposes. I opted not to and didn’t think to get a photo. I did sink into the muck nearly up to my knee at one point.

As I was walking (more like stumbling) out of the water, I found a rock that had a bunch of salt crystals growing like gems on its surface. I also neglected to get a picture of this.

Luckily, I had no major flesh wounds on our visit, but I’m told the water really stings even minor cuts. I did have one little spot on my neck that burned just a tad, and although you’re discouraged from drinking the water or even getting it on your face, I ventured to lick my finger and found that the water burned my tongue.

Once we had our little swim (more of a bob), we showered off a little (an outside shower, no soap, just a rinse), but my skin felt horrible all the way home, as if I had gone for a week at the beach with no shower.

It was a really neat experience, definitely worth it if you’re in the neighborhood. It took us around two hours to drive back to our villa in Herzliya (near Tel Aviv), which is on the other side of the country from the Dead Sea. While in the sea, we could see Jordan across the way. I suppose we might have swum over for a visit, but the caretakers of the beach we went to had cordoned off an area for swimming, and I don’t imagine we could have gone  under the thing to swim outside it (seriously).

Jaffa

This week on a trip to Israel for my job, I went with my coworkers to the port of Jaffa. You may recognize the name as the city from which Jonah is supposed to have left on his fateful voyage. It’s also the city in which Andromeda was chained to a rock in sacrifice to a sea monster only to be rescued by Perseus. It was a neat place to visit.