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Southern (Oregon) Coast surprises

29 Mar
29 March 2019.
Where does one go for a break when one lives on the Oregon Coast? Another part of the coast, naturally.
When we lived in Portland, Cannon Beach was our coastal-town-of-choice. We usually enjoyed two, 3-or-4-night off-season stays each year, often with dog in tow. In fact, knowing we enjoyed Cannon Beach even in colder weather led us to decide to live on the coast.
However, in 30-odd years of living in Oregon, we had never ventured south of Florence! It was high time to go before the tourist season kicks in and Highway 101 becomes a convoy of gigantic RVs pulling tiny cars.
For one reason or another, we chose Bandon as our base and we were delighted with the decision.  It is less than four hours from home: far enough for a getaway but not so far as to require a driving marathon which neither of us enjoys.
Because the immediate post-Lewis and Clark history of the Oregon Coast is one of exploration and shipping, there are myriad lighthouses so in my mind I dubbed this The Lighthouse Tour, but there were other surprises awaiting us: among them, cranberries, sheep, and lakes.

Cranberries

I knew we grew cranberries in Oregon. I did not know they were grown so close to the ocean. Turns out Coos and Curry counties are the epicenter of the industry. The well-ordered, burgundy-hued fields would make Marie Kondo proud. There are many bogs and sloughs in the Bandon area but these fields, clearly visible from the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway (aka, Highway 101), were dry. Seems they are only flooded to harvest the berries. Wouldn’t that be fun to see?

We did not get a good shot of the cranberry fields, but they are not “bogs” at least at this time of year. They are fields rimmed with berms to allow flooding for harvest. Photo by KnightedAirs

Sheep

Who knew the southern Oregon coast was prime territory for sheep? As green as the area is, we felt transported to Scotland where sheep grazing within view of the ocean is commonplace. While sheep farms are not as common here as in the Willamette Valley or Central Oregon we also were not traveling on an Interstate so we traveled closer to the pastoral views. Something about sheep always makes me happy.

Sheep and cows graze with a view of the ocean, Cape Blanco,

Lakes

Oregon is not lake country. Rivers we have. The Pacific Ocean, of course. As I hail from “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Oregon has always seemed a little light on freshwater bodies. Driving along 101 south of Florence, there are a lot of lakes, some due to dams created by the famous Oregon dunes. It really is a peaceful drive from Florence to points south, unlike 101 near us. While the photo below is of a tiny lake, some are huge. Look up Siltcoos Lake or Tahkenitch Lake.

Lake Marie in Umpqua State Park, a stone’s throw from an ocean beach but fun — and safe — for kids and dogs.

The Trip

We spent four days exploring, mostly under clear skies. Bandon makes a nice base with some good restaurant choices, plenty of lodging options, and a choice of river or ocean views. We chose the Bandon Inn, on a hill overlooking the old town where one can walk to many restaurants.

Sunrise view of the Coquille River, Bandon, from the Bandon Inn.

Our travel day south afforded an opportunity for a few scenic stops between Newport and Coos Bay. One of our favorite coffee stops is in Yachats at the Green Salmon, with the best pour-over coffee we’ve found. Amazing pastries, too, and you could have a different sandwich every day for a month. They will lace any drink with CBD if you like. We never get past the pastries and coffee. Haven’t tried the CBD.
Bypassing Cape Perpetua, having visited there several times, we proceeded to the dramatic Oregon Dunes and the Umpqua Lighthouse in the eponymous state park.

The Umpqua Lighthouse still operates, now as a Private Aid to Navigation (PATON) as the personnel assigned to the Coast Guard station were relocated in 2008. It shines with a distinctive red and white Fresnel lens.

This is what people like to do at the Oregon Dunes. Only a few hardy souls out in March, but ATVs are available to rent at many locations nearby.

Arriving in Bandon about 16:00, we had time for a loop through the old town, where we discovered that night’s dining destination, Bandon Brewing Co., where pizza reigns! (Watch for a review over at Our Weekly Pizza very soon.)
Heading south the next day our focus was on Cape Blanco and Port Orford. Further south there were road closures and delays due to landslides last month, so we limited our wandering a bit. Cape Blanco turned out to be a delightful stop with an easy walk to the closed-until-April light. We were the only visitors on this warm and surprisingly wind-free morning. Imagine the hardships in living in this remote location when the light was built in 1869?

The Cape Blanco Lighthouse can be toured during limited hours, April-October.

From this viewpoint on Cape Blanco, it is easy to see how important the lighthouses were to ships navigating the Oregon Coast.

Port Orford is a dot on the map but Port Orford Heads State Park and a surprising ocean-front restaurant make it a perfect combination for outdoor fun and refreshment. Port Orford Heads offers a network of paths with remarkable views far out-to-sea made even more interesting by the unique rock formations. Here we saw one formation that looked like a whale and another resembling a henge sunk into the Pacific. We spotted our first whales of the season, beginning their northward migration to the feeding grounds in Alaska. It was shirtsleeve weather by late morning, convincing us that spring was at hand.

Lovely view of the entrance to Nellie’s Bay at Port Orford. From this bay, the Coast Guard used to launch their lifeboat. There is a museum dedicated to these brave “surfmen” as they were known.

Offshore islands at Port Orford Heads. This is a terrific whale watching viewpoint. See the “henge” far out to sea?

We could have spent the day on a handy bench overlooking the whales’ path, but growling stomachs called us to lunch at The Redfish. The cafe’s ocean view was surpassed only by the cuisine. Their fish tacos were the best I have eaten. Ever. Well-seasoned, grilled rockfish, encased in grilled tortillas (firmer for the grilling so they don’t fall apart) with a tasty, non-drippy slaw, and an underpinning of queso fresco plus salsa fresca. We passed on the fries and were rewarded with a large side salad dressed with a compelling citrus vinaigrette. I wish we lived closer. Or that they would move.

The Redfish Cafe at Battle Rock Wayside Park. best fish tacos ever.

Another day we passed in-and-near Coos Bay. First stop: Shore Acres State Park. Our promised sunny day started out with patchy fog and cleared to cold and windy near the ocean, far from the shirtsleeve weather of Port Orford. We were almost alone for an hour-long exploration that included the amazing formal gardens at Shore Acres, on the former estate of timber baron Louis Simpson.
From the website:
The initial holding was purchased from Louis J. and his wife, Lela G. Simpson, in 1942, and included the Simpsons’ oceanfront estate with its formal garden. Later additions were acquired from other owners between 1956 and 1980. The garden fell into disarray in the period 1942-1970 but it has been restored to perhaps an even grander scale than that achieved by Louis Simpson. “Shore Acres” was the name given by the Simpsons to their large estate on the spectacular Cape Arago sea coast. The house sat on a precipitous bluff overlooking the rocky ocean shore. The Simpson family was important in the development of the Coos Bay area, beginning with Captain Asa M. Simpson, who founded the town of North Bend after his arrival on Coos Bay in 1855. Simpson and his sons were leaders in shipping and the lumber industry. They owned land from Cape Arago to North Bend.

Almost alone at Shore Acres on a day of pounding surf and cold winds.

Dramatic surf at Shore Acres.

The former Louis Simpson Estate is now a state park, Shore Acres. I am told the current garden is more beautiful than the Simpson’s was. They have the best gift shop we’ve been in. Ever.

Found this tiny bunny having a snack at Shore Acres. We never see them in Lincoln City. He was so small, maybe 2 pounds.

Not far away, the lighthouse at Cape Arago once kept ships from harm. When you see the rocks all along this part of the coast, even far offshore, it is no wonder shipwrecks were common and lighthouses necessary.
Moving on, the aquarium at Charleston was closed (one of the perils of off-season travel is fewer days open and shorter hours) so we headed to Coos Bay. The heyday of lumber that built this port has passed but there is a tidy downtown core with a pleasant boardwalk and, surprisingly, a railroad museum whose open day our visit coincided with. Fish tacos from Sharkbites didn’t quite compare to the Redfish but they were of excellent quality.

Oregon Railway Museum. This outdoor museum is best savored on a dry day. You can walk through many cars, including some ancient cabooses. Limited hours.

There is a nice boardwalk along the waterfront of this calm natural harbor.

One can spend a nice morning just taking in the views from Bandon itself. When the sun is at your back, the Pacific shows itself best. Once again, we found ourselves virtually alone while we tromped around Coquille Point in Kronenberg County Park on a mild March morning. A lovely loop with vast views takes one along the cliffside to see the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge bursting with bird life. Table Rock, Cat & Kittens Rocks, and Face Rock are among the formations that capture the imagination.

Cosmo the puffin watches over the Coquille Point Nature Preserve. He is made of plastic pollution found in the ocean, part of a project called “Washed Ashore.”

Face Rock, one of the fanciful formations off the coast at Bandon.

While there are many dining options in Bandon — we tried several — the Bandon Brewing Co., Bandon Coffee Co., and Edgewaters were our favorites. Edgewaters was so impressive we dined there twice. Seafood Romesco (like a cioppino), a creative arugula salad, and a unique preparation of calamari caught our attention, as well as a decent local wine list. For the population, Bandon’s restaurant options far surpass those in Lincoln City.
I thought of this as The Lighthouse Tour as they are abundant on the coast. Between Lincoln City and Port Orford, we passed lights at Yaquina Head, Heceta Head, Umpqua, Coquille, Cape Blanco, and Cape Arago. But we found much more than lighthouses in our south coast break. Next stop: France in late April!
If you would like to know more about walks and hikes, head on over to Project Easy Hiker for a companion piece.

Wining in Walla Walla

27 Jul
27 July 2018.
It has been a very long time since we have driven through the Columbia River Gorge. The last time for me was a trip to Pendleton in early 2012 to oversee an office remodeling for my employer. My head was filled with thoughts of our impending move to Rome and not with an appreciation for the landscape I had passed through many times over the years.
As we drove east, magnificent evergreens gave way to evidence of last year’s tragic forest fire, then dry land farms and ranches became interspersed with lush green vineyards.

Me flanked by Ric (L) and Rick (R). Cocktails on the porch at Green Gables Inn.

We were on our way to Walla Walla to join my oenophile brother and my sister-in-law for a wine tour. My brother is truly a wine lover at an expert level. Ric and I appreciate wine and to be able to tag along on this adventure with Rick and Jane was a treat. Rick’s research and planning led us to wineries my Ric and I would never have found. (Yes, two Richards when we travel. A constant source of confusion.)
Our timing was excellent: Walla Walla was declared “Best Wine Town” by Sunset Magazine the very day we arrived. Can the crowds be far behind?

Barnaby Jones and brother Rick share a moment on the porch.

We settled in at the elegant yet cozy Green Gables Inn, housed in a historic home dating to 1909 and meticulously restored to its glory. To our delight, the property is overseen by the delightful Barnaby Jones.
One of the wonders of the Walla Walla region is its farming history. The waving wheat fields, golden in their ripeness with a backdrop of vineyards and the Blue Mountains, are a stunning sight and evidence of the state’s importance as a producer of grain. The presence of the wineries is a testament to the fertility of the Palouse. In 1972 there were six wineries in Washington State. Now there are over 800! The same climate that is ideal for wheat is also perfect for growing grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay. The two American Viticultural Areas (AVA) within the Palouse have the same latitude as the Bordeaux. Yeah, there is some excellent wine here.

Duck parade on the Whitman College campus.

We set out to find some.
My brother planned an outstanding tour. We visited a dozen cellars over the course of four days. One more day and my next stop would have been Betty Ford.
Actually, it was nicely paced. On two of the four days, we visited only two wineries. Key to keeping our heads on straight (and able to stay awake for dinner) was sharing tastings at almost every winery. Cuts down on the buzz and minimizes the need to waste wine by spitting. If you buy some wine the tasting is free. My brother is a collector so purchases were no problem. (Thanks, Rick!)
Tastings reminded me of the old days in Oregon, back in the late 80s when we first cruised through wine country during an open-house weekend. Per person tastings in Walla Walla are usually $5 or $10 with an occasional spike to $20 when tasting reserve wines or doing a vertical tasting.
Four of the wineries really stood out for Ric and me.

I’ve never seen a tasting room as peaceful as Spring Valley’s.

Spring Valley Vineyard is a family operation that goes back five generations of farming in the Corkrum family who first homesteaded and grew wheat here. Grapes were first planted in 1993, fairly early in the storyline of Walla Walla wineries. The wines are amazing (French-style, with estate-grown Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot) but I think I was most impressed by the story of family farming, keeping the operation in the family and staying true to their roots in wheat farming while moving into upscale wines. About 900 acres of the thousand-acre farm are still planted in wheat. We enjoyed a tour of the ranch where the tasting room was in a grove of trees by a spring-fed pond. Delightful!

The tasting room in the copse, Spring Valley Vineyards.

Memorial to winemaker Devin Corkrum Derby with wheat fields in the background. Almost 900 acres of the 1000 acre ranch are still planted in wheat.

Always good to see butterflies on a farm. Buddleia near the spring attracted this large one.

Gino pours for Jane, Rick, and Ric at G. Cuneo Cellars.

G. Cuneo Cellars tagline is “Italian Style American Soil.” We are so pleased to have found Gino once again. Many years ago (mid-90s to early 00s) we used to buy wine futures from Cuneo Cellars in Carlton. In fact, before he moved to Carlton we used to visit Gino Cuneo at a small almost-impossible-to-find winery in the Eola Hills where we would do barrel tastings, buy futures, and feast on Italian meats and cheeses. We had wondered over our years in Italy whatever became of Gino. We knew he had left the Carlton operation (now known as Cana’s Feast Winery), but we had no idea where he had gone until my brother tripped over his tasting room in downtown Walla Walla. We made it a point to visit and were thrilled to find Gino making Italian Style wines right there in Walla Walla. He is the only winemaker in the Pacific Northwest to produce wines from Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Barbera. We are not Rosé lovers, but one sip of Gino’s Rosato and we were hooked. We do miss Italian wines and are looking forward to receiving a wine club shipment this fall. Look him up at G. Cuneo Cellars right across from the Marcus Whitman Hotel.

Gino Cuneo (& me) at the tasting room he shares with Cotes du Ciel.

The old trainstation serves as a tasting room. The Shiels’ saved it from destruction.

Also a family operation, Côte Bonneville is in the Yakima Valley AVA, about a 90-minute drive from Walla Walla. My brother has been a fan of theirs for years and a road trip was in order for a private tasting with winery owner Kathy Shiels. Kathy and Hugh have been growing grapes in the Yakima Valley for 26 years, and now daughter Kerry is the winemaker. It is a very closely controlled family operation: not too big and very exclusive. BTW, Bonneville does not refer to the famous Columbia River dam, but rather to the family home in Cincinnati, Ohio. Fine wines? Oh yes! And the cute train station remodel is stunning.

The iconic schoolhouse at L’Ecole No. 41.

L’Ecole No. 41 is a long time Northwest award winner and given its presence one would think it was a corporate operation. But no, it is a 3rd generation family-run business. I admire lovingly restored old buildings and this old schoolhouse salvaged from destruction is a delight. By the end of Day Four of our Walla Walla tour my interest in trying more wines was waning, but L’Ecole No. 41’s special Friday Reserve Tour & Tasting was the perfect ending to our trip with great wines, camaraderie, and a walking tour of the property.

Our tasting at L’Ecole No. 41. It was hard to pick a favorite.

Not only were the wines great; In four nights we had four great meals in Walla Walla.  As a town about four times the size of Lincoln City, it had ten times the restaurant choices, especially at the high end.
Public House 124 is hard to classify. Maybe as one reviewer said on Trip Advisor, “a bar with a twist.” Inventive small plates, flat bread that should be called pizza, beer, wine, cocktails, sandwiches, and more. The truffle fries are swoon-worthy and I don’t even like truffles. Seamless service by a competent and pleasant staff. Efficient and professional but not stuffy.

This staircase at L’Ecole No. 41 was manufactured at Whitehouse-Crawford when it was a furniture factory.

Whitehouse-Crawford is a cavernous ex-planing mill and furniture company. (In fact, L’Ecole No. 41 features a staircase made there.) The ambiance is a bit noisy, service is professional if a bit distant, but the food is perfect and of course, there is wine…. Try the halibut. I have never had better halibut and considering I live by the ocean, that is high praise indeed.
That covers nights one and two. Each meal was better than the one prior and they were all excellent.
Night three found us at Brasserie Four, which seems to have been plucked out of France dropped into the Washington wheat fields. Perfectly roast chicken, moules-frites like one gets on the Riviera, a cheese-board worthy of a Parisian fromagerie. My only regret is that we were too satiated for dessert. And there was single malt waiting at the B&B.

The wrap aournd porch is perfect for summer breakfast, cocktails, and after dinner drinks.

The best for last! My favorite was Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen. We don’t even get close to Middle-Eastern or Italian cuisine in Lincoln City. It is the only restaurant we have been in — since we were last in Europe — that had octopus on the menu. (It was delicious.) Paella with squid ink was popular with our group of four and the Moroccan Fried Chicken looked fabulous. I indulged in the Moroccan lamb sausage with chickpeas but I’d like to eat my way through the entire menu. This restaurant alone would have me back in Walla Walla sooner rather than later.
I can’t believe we lived in Portland for 25 years and never made it to Walla Walla. Now that we’ve been, I am certain we’ll be back. Save a place on the porch for us Barnaby.

Barnaby Jones keeping watch over the breakfast hour.

From Rome to Home 

25 Feb
25 February 2017. Moving is tough on every level. It’s non-stop labor, a constant stream of decisions to make, and an endless outpouring of money. After almost four months of transition, we have made the final move and are permanently installed in our new house in Lincoln City, Oregon (population about 8600). The kitchen is assembled, new flooring installed, walls are freshly painted, and we’ve slept here eight nights. The new shower is almost done. Maybe by Wednesday. We have a few boxes remaining and the office and guest room to organize plus artwork to hang.
Janie has settled in nicely.

Janie has settled in nicely.

Not surprisingly, we have some observations and musings about our move and new town.
Traffic Jam. Heavy traffic in Lincoln City in winter consists of more than three cars stopped at a red light. That will change when the tourists arrive in the summer, and traffic is a bit heavier on weekends even now, but what a pleasure it is to drive with virtually no traffic! We drive 28 miles to get to the “big town” of Newport (population 10,268) to shop at Fred Meyer, but considering it can take me an hour to go 10 miles from Beaverton to the East side of Portland to meet friends for dinner, the 40 minutes zipping along with a view of the Pacific Ocean makes me happy.
The shower in the master is not quite ready to use.

The shower in the master is not quite ready to use.

People are very trusting, Part I. There was no key to our mailbox in the development (14 households on our cul-de-sac), so we stopped by the Lincoln City Post Office and filed a request with the very friendly clerk. He said we’d get a call when the delivery person had changed the lock. No ID requested, no proof of residence. Huh. A week later we went back as we had not received a call. The key was there and another clerk simply handed it to us. No ID, no proof of residence required.
People are very trusting, Part II. We contacted a handyman service to get some help with furniture assembly (we cut a swath through IKEA to furnish the place), installing some fixtures, and getting the place cleaned after all the renovation work. A cleaning crew was dispatched and two strapping lads spent 3 days doing our punch list of tasks. The owner of the company simply emailed us an invoice. Never met us, never asked for a credit card nor a deposit. They did a great job.
The living room is waiting for a nice easy chair that will arrive in April.

The living room is waiting for a nice easy chair that will arrive in April.

Amazon and UPS instead of a moving van. On the occasion of my retirement in 2015, the government shipped back 1100 pounds of things we could not part with. It’s been sitting in storage in Portland. Artwork, precious family items, and model trains make a household complete, but you can’t sit on them nor eat off them. We also had a few boxes shipped from Italy at great expense; mostly clothes, some household items we cherished and could not replace.
The media room is missing a sofa, also arriving in April. Janie loves to sleep in the recliner, though.

The media room is missing a sofa, also arriving in April. Janie loves to sleep in the recliner, though.

Moving in we did not have the proverbial pot to pee in much less a bed to sleep in. (The house did come with two big screen TVs, however.) After the big IKEA sweep, I hit online shopping hard: Crate & Barrel, Wayfair, Potterybarn, Lands’ End, and especially Amazon. Most have free shipping if you buy enough stuff, or in the case of Amazon, have a Prime membership. We’ve always felt Prime was a good deal, but that $99 per year really paid off as FedEx, UPS, and the USPS dropped off a steady stream of Amazon boxes at our door. One single order was north of $2100.00 and the shipping charge was $1.00. I have not been able to figure out which product was the culprit as there were so many items in the order. We did not have to pack the stuff, we did not have to hire a moving van, but we had to unwrap a mountain of boxes. North Lincoln County Recycling has been very helpful moving that cardboard out.
The guys doing the flooring ran out of materials in our office so we had to wait a few extra days to finish setting it up.

The guys doing the flooring ran out of materials in our office so we had to wait a few extra days to finish setting it up.

Janie has adapted beautifully. She had been a bit of a pain-in-the-ass at Derek’s: very clingy, insisting on climbing on my pillow and sleeping on my head, waking me up with her twitching tail. We had to lock her out many nights just to get a few hours uninterrupted sleep. Upon arrival at the new house, she is back to her old sweet self. She fully explored the house her first day here and seems to understand this is her permanent place. She found cozy napping spots and has slept peacefully on the bed allowing us a full 8 hours or more each of the past few nights. And it is so quiet here! No motorini roaring past, not even barking dogs, and since our house has radiant in-floor heating, not even the gentle whoosh of a furnace. When it is clear, the stars look close enough to touch.
There is a lot of exploring to do. We’ve been non-stop on moving and settling in since February 8 and the weather has not been conducive to walks on the beach nor hikes in the woods. Today we finally had a chance to take a walk in the hills behind us and enjoy some sunshine and brisk (45F/7C) fresh air. It was our first real walk in three weeks.
We have come a long way from Rome, literally and figuratively, but we really feel at home here.
Now for a shameless plug: If you know of anyone traveling to Italy, please recommend they check out my book at Amazon. Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena is available worldwide in print and Kindle format.  I will be blogging more over at Project Easy Hiker if you would care to follow me.

Ex expat

15 Jan
14 January 2017. Twelve weeks ago we were still roaming in Rome. Seems like a distant memory, almost a dream.
When I see photos on Facebook by my friends in Italy, I really miss it. Walking around at Christmas was a biggie. My heart wanted to be there; However, my mind knew the crowds and the usual problems would make me crazy.
Personally, I don’t miss living in Rome, but I do miss our Italian lifestyle if that makes any sense.
We miss the being able to do most of our errands on foot.
We walked everywhere in Rome. If a bus was not coming, we walked home. That is not remotely feasible in Portland where we are staying with our son. Case in point, yesterday we spent 30 minutes waiting for a bus delayed due to the snow. In Rome, even if we were all the way across town we just would’ve started walking because it was possible to walk home in an hour-or-so from almost anywhere. There is no feasible route to do that here.
Not to mention it’s just incredibly beautiful to walk through Rome. Just saying. But then Oregon has some damn fine scenic elements. 
Walking was our major form of exercise, something we accomplished almost without trying. I cannot get to 10,000 steps here without making a major expedition. Hoping I can change that big time when we move to the Oregon Coast next month.
We miss being able to walk to-and-from dinner.
In Rome, we could not only walk across town but could walk to dozens of restaurants we would be excited to dine at. And we would work off the calories by walking at least one way most of the time. It’s terrific to walk 20, 40, or even 60 minutes after a nice dinner. 
We miss coffee bars and cheap, high-quality cappuccini.
In Italy, it is a God-given right to have a great cappuccino for about €1.10. That’s about $1.17. A great cappuccino served at a table outside a little cafe, possibly with a gooey chocolate cornetto that cost €.90. For €4.00 ($4.26) we would have our repast. Since we frequented Bar Ponte Milvio, we would leave a Euro now and then for our friendly server and the guys behind the bar.
By contrast, this morning, we paid $11.00 for two black coffees and two pastries, we served ourselves, and they expected a tip! The pastries were good, but seriously?
I miss speaking Italian.
Luckily I have a class “Keeping up in Italian” starting next week, and I play Parole con Amici (Words with Friends) daily to keep my head in it. OTOH, I do love understanding everything that is said and going on around me and being able to make myself understood in a grammatically correct manner. 
We miss hopping on a train.
Ah, the ease of travel in Europe! We could go anywhere as long as we had a cat sitter. Tuscany for the weekend? Venice just for dinner? (Yeah, we did that once and spent the night.) Joyriding to Paris via Milano beat flying. Now we will have to mount a major expedition just to visit. And flying is a necessary part of U.S. travel. (I can’t see hopping on the Empire Builder to go to Minnesota and taking 37 hours.)
We miss excellent wines at a non-budget-busting price.
Wine in stores in the U.S. is not priced too badly, but in restaurants, well, apparently thievery is not illegal. $11.00 for a glass of wine is not uncommon. We could buy a bottle of decent Sicilian wine in a restaurant for about $17.00.
We do have a fine Farmer’s Market in Portland. Fine, especially if the weather is good. It’s tough to get there in the snow.
OK, enough whining. Yes, we knew we’d miss this stuff. We knew what the U.S. was like and we came back anyway. You know why? Because STUFF WORKS HERE.
  • You can run all of your appliances at the same time without blowing a circuit and you can afford to pay the bill afterward.
  • We have a clothes dryer. I can do three loads of clothes before noon, including sheets, which would have taken an entire day to dry in our spare bedroom during winter.
  • You can buy anything you want at most large grocery stores. Not only food but lightbulbs, batteries, cosmetics, greeting cards, gifts, stamps. You do not have to go to four different specialty stores. And you can get cash from the cashier when you use your debit card. I’d completely forgotten about that convenience.
  • You do not need to have €200.00 cash in your pocket to get you through the week. Debit cards are magically accepted even for a coffee. (But then a coffee can cost $3.00 so why not?)
  • No one sneers at credit cards and you can return items if you make a buying error. This is no small thing.
  • Nice clothes are affordable and there are petite sizes for those of us who are height challenged. Funny how you can buy clothes made of Italian wool in the U.S. at an affordable price point but you can hardly find them in Italy.
  • You can go to a bank and talk to a teller without waiting 20 minutes. And the teller will be pleasant and bend over backward to help.
  • The Internet really is a fast web. (Play on words there. Our provider in Rome was “FastWeb” and they weren’t. Fast, that is.)
  • The buses come when they are supposed to, and tell you when they are late. We have an app that tells us when the bus is scheduled and that gives real time updates as to actual arrival. So if traffic is heavy and the bus is moving slowly, you know it before you leave the house. Buses never just disappear as they did in Rome. Knowing when the bus is coming is a big deal and Rome has not mastered that service.
  • My cousin calls the U.S. the “Land of Stuff.” That is good news and bad news. We over consume in the U.S. OTOH, you can satisfy a lot of desires and solve a lot of problems with the products available to us here.
  • Online shopping is superb. Amazon and Alexa, we love you.
  • The U.S. Post Office, bastion of good service that it is, should be a role model for the world.
People, of course, were a major factor in moving back to the U.S. We have enjoyed the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with family for the first time in years, and are enjoying dinners with friends when we can get out of the frozen wasteland of our neighborhood. (There have been two major snow events and one minor one since mid-December. Having a car has been a bit of a joke.) Being on the same continent as your family has benefits.
It is more expensive to live in the U.S. We did not move back as a shrewd financial move. It would have been more affordable to live in Italy, from a strictly dollars-and-cents perspective. However, I don’t think I would want to grow very old in Rome. It’s just not an easy place to live, period. We are, after all, and for better or worse, Americans.
We will be back, Italy! To visit. 

 

Left coast life

17 Nov
17 November 2016. It has been scarcely three weeks since we left Rome. In that time, we have been to the dentist and eye doctor, bought new glasses, established ourselves with a General Practitioner, figured out public transportation in Portland, learned to drive again, bought a car, and had an offer accepted on a house after a 3-night trip to the Oregon Coast to “start” house-hunting. Yes, we will truly be living on the left coast, at Lincoln City, Oregon. Here’s our house-to-be. It’s about a mile from the beach. house
Driving is a necessary annoyance. We have a lovely hybrid vehicle; However, we are still trying to use public transportation for trips to the city centre to avoid the hassle of parking and to keep ourselves walking and wandering and discovering. You cannot adequately explore a place by car as well as you can on two feet.
We have made progress in the ever-important search for good coffee. We have managed to find three places: Coffee Time  on Northwest 21st Avenue makes an excellent and small cappuccino, Grand Central Baking just a block from our son’s house makes a smooth and rich cappuccino, and Great Harvest Bread Company  on Southwest 2nd Avenue made an Americano I found pleasant: not burned, not bitter, and not too big if you ask them not to add too much water. We have found that a flat white at Starbucks is pretty good and at 8 ounces about the right size. At $3.40 it is hardly a value and they expect a tip!
Last time I shared some of our observations after only a few days back in the U.S. In the past 10 or 12 days we’ve noted many more. These are things we took for granted until we lived overseas for 4 1/2 years. Now, they are astounding.
  1. Elevators are huge! I had forgotten you can put 10 people in an elevator without having to become intimate.

    This is the elevator at our embassy apartment in Roma. You coudl get 3 not-too-big people in it. One might call it "intimate." Quaint.

    This is the elevator at our embassy apartment in Rome. You could get 3 not-too-big people in it. One might call it “intimate.” Or quaint.

  2. In the US, cars do not park on the sidewalks nor in the pedestrian crossings.

    No one parks like this in Portland, but this is a failry common approach in Rome: on the sidewalk and in the pedestrian zone.

    No one parks like this in Portland, but this is a fairly common approach in Rome: on the sidewalk and in the pedestrian zone.

  3. Maybe it’s just in Portland, but buses are terrific! The drivers welcome you on board and they arrive on time. Most remarkably, rather than flagging a bus down as one does in Rome (or they won’t stop), the other day while standing at a stop serving 2 different lines we had to wave off the bus we did not need. So polite! Of course, the cost is much higher. A single trip is $2.50 versus €1.50 in Rome. My Roman friends will gasp when I tell them an annual pass is $1100.00 versus the €250.00 we paid in Rome, but then the buses here run on time and show up.
  4. People do not talk while riding on public transportation. It’s almost like being in Paris. They also wait for you to get off before shoving their way on board, and people queue up. I’ve even been deferred to in boarding. In Rome, people would shoulder me out of the way in the scurry to claim a spot onboard.
  5. The mentally challenged engage you in conversation on public transportation. In Rome, we seldom saw challenged people of any sort out alone, if they were out in public at all. It is refreshing to see people of varying abilities making their way around the city, confident and free, accepted by their fellow travellers.
  6. Dogs pee on the grass. Sidewalk puddles are (usually) from rain. This may only have meaning if you have lived in a big city without grassy areas.
  7. I can wash and dry clothes at the same time while making espresso and ironing. This is huge. Thank you, USA, for plentiful and affordable electricity. And we could turn the heat on before November 15. 
  8. I no longer need to clean the calcium out of the cat’s water dish with vinegar.
  9. Tipping is the scourge of America. Prices are so much higher than Europe as a whole, yet we are expected to tip even if we serve ourselves at the counter. This is going to take some getting used to.
We are thankful for all of you who have followed our story since GoodDayRome debuted 4 1/2 years ago. I am not sure where to go with blogging. Obviously, for awhile I will have little to say about Rome. I will keep posting what’s going on in our lives as our transition continues, so I hope you will stay for the ride. When we travel back to Europe, I will probably blog about our travels.
I am writing a book about easy hiking in Italy’s Val Gardena. It is for people like Ric and me (yeah, old people), people with children, or anyone who does not fancy climbing mountains but enjoys a good stroll. If I can take a deep breath and work on it consistently for a few days, it should be published on Amazon by late January. I will let you know here when it launches. Maybe 5 or 6 people will actually buy it. 
For our American friends and readers, Happy Thanksgiving! It is exciting to be back in the USA for this most-American of holidays and I am looking forward to our family gathering and cooking up a storm.
kitchenSpeaking of cooking, I can hardly wait to start cooking in my kitchen-to-be.
 

 

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