Friday, December 19, 2014

Oregon Survival Kit

This is my Oregon Survival Kit.  I carry it where ever I go because I have needed one or more of the items every day.

Flashlight and umbrella are the number one priorities

  1. Phone charger - cold and altitude sucks the life right out of a cell phone battery
  2. Hat - random snow storms
  3. Dry socks - cause it rains here
  4. Flashlight - I live in the middle of the woods and walk everywhere.  It gets freaking dark.  I've been caught without a flashlight much to my vivid imagination.  Try walking in the woods when it's so dark you can't see your hand in front of your face.  It's scary.
  5. Umbrella - most Oregonians think an umbrella is for sissies.  Well, I'm a sissy.  If I have my winter coat on, I don't want to swap out into my raincoat.  I'll take my umbrella, thank you.
  6. Raincoat - for the same reason as above.  It rains every day.  Sometimes a raincoat works better than an umbrella
  7. Gloves - it's a damp cold here and I like my gloves
  8. Reusable grocery bag - you never know when you are going to stop at store
  9. Backpack - I've come to terms with the fact that I am a grown-ass adult who has to carry a backpack all the time regardless of where I live since I don't drive a car anymore.
  10. Bus pass (not pictured) - obvious reasons

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Days in Minneapolis - Part I

In 2013, I tried twice to travel to Minneapolis.  Initially I really wanted to visit during the winter but a major March snow storm put an end to that trip.  Always check with your bus system if expecting bad weather. Traveling from Chicago, you can get a Megabus ticket to Minneapolis very cheap.  So third time's a charm. I finally made it to the Mall of America city in May 2013.  I arrived on a beautiful spring day.

I have discovered that I tend to have a goal with each trip I take.  For Mexico, it was lay on the beach and soak up sun.  For Portland, check out why its considered quirky.  Once I got to Minneapolis, I realized the goal for this trip was to visit as many restaurants as possible with happy hour specials.  Why?  Because Chicago doesn't have happy hour.

My first stop was Nicollet Mall.  Actually, this boulevard area is where I spent a lot of my time while in the city.  Lots of restaurants in the downtown area.  First stop, a place with a patio please.  The Local, an Irish pub, drew my eye since I was in the mood for a whiskey and ginger and they offered a huge patio area. (picture to the right shows part of it)  Oh man, this place did not fail me.  Their signature drink is The Big Ginger with 2 Gingers whiskey.  Then I munched on Chicken Shots. Yuuuummmy.  Breaded chicken bites with a 2 Gingers glaze.  I'm getting hungry just thinking about them.  The finale consisted of Guinness Mousse.  Seriously, if you go to  Minneapolis, you must try this place.  It is so good.

Minneapolis is the first city I visited with bike rental stations.  They had them throughout the city.  After stuffing my face, I rented one and cruised around the river area.  Like Chicago, it is a very bike friendly city.  I wish I had a bike lock though cause there were times I wanted to lock up the bike so I could go inside somewhere and there wasn't a rental station to park bike.

By this time, I was tired and needed to find that hotel I booked on Priceline's Name Your Own Price deal.  Luckily, the bus system is easy to navigate as is the light-rail system.  A ticket has a 2 1/2 hour transfer time limit between bus, trolley and light-rail and is reasonably priced ($1.75).

The bus dropped me 'near' my hotel but I had to hoof it about 3/4 mile.  Then I discovered the hotel offered a downtown shuttle service.  Yeah, I utilized that convenience the next two days.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Amazing Hostel Sayulita

I love The Amazing Race show so when I discovered a hostel named The Amazing Hostel in Sayulita I knew I had to stay there.  I booked my stay through HostelBookers (not intentional but my review is on the front page for the hostel at the time of writing this post).  Although my hostel experience is limited, The Amazing Hostel is exactly that its amazing.  Further hostels will be compared to this hostel.  I loved it and the area so much I added an additional 2 nights to my week-long stay.

My pictures are horribly bad.  Goal for 2015: get better at photography.  The above pictures are from the girls 10 bed dorm.  The beds were comfortable and linen is included with your fee.  No blanket though but its beach town Mexico, blanket not needed.  The lockers were big enough for my stuff.  Bring your own lock.  The dorm room itself was large, exceptionally clean and quiet.  There is a bathroom as part of the dorm room but it is small (see shower photo below).  I preferred the ones available outside the rooms.  Shower is separate from toilet with a sink in the open.  Very convenient.

The last photo is looking through the common sitting area through the open air kitchen out towards the pool area. The stairs will take you up to another sun area and the outdoor handwash laundry area with clothes lines.  The very top photo shows the main sun deck with tiny pool and climbing wall.  There is a bbq spot and outdoor pool shower behind the photo op fake van. 

The kitchen is stocked with equipment if you choose to cook (microwave, toaster and stove top, no oven). Restaurant food is so reasonably priced that I found it difficult to homecook.  I did buy a few snacks and drinks for when I didn't feel like leaving the hostel; otherwise, I went out to eat.  I like how they kept the refrigerator.  Each guest is assigned a small plastic box to store their food in refrigerator with one shelf reserved for large bottles and shared food.  They have a filtered water machine to fill up your bottles so you can stay hydrated for free.

The hostel offers towel rental (20 pesos), Spanish lessons ($50US) and a friendly cat to pet (free).

Little did I know, since I'm not Canadian, among my fellow hostel guests were Mickey and Pete, winners of The Amazing Race Canada.  You can read about their adventures at their aptly named website, Mickey and Pete.  They really are just as nice in person as their print and video reviews say.

Best Features: clean, clean, clean! Spacious, close to center of town, friendly and helpful staff who speak English as well as other languages, plenty of outdoor relax chairs and lounges
Improvements: more hot water for showers, availability of blanket for chilly nights (not that those happened often)
Would I stay here again: ABSOLUTELY

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

8 Things I love about Chicago

1. The Beach

The close proximity of the beach made me deliriously happy.  The two beaches I frequented (Montrose Beach and Wilson Beach) have great sand with surprisingly clean water or at least it looks that way.  I spent the first 5 months of living in Chicago not realizing how amazing the beach could be.  Then I moved to an apartment only a few blocks away from the beach and AHHHHHH, heaven happened.  I was hooked.  It became very easy to spend a few early hours at the beach then head to work.  Days like those were fantastic.

2. The flowers

Congratulations to the government agency in charge of the flowers.  This picture does not do them justice but Chicago does a great job of decorating the downtown and Michigan Avenue area as well as several other parts of the city.  There are seasonal flowers and current artwork.

3. Public Transportation

Chicago has fantastic public transportation.  You have the option of the L trains/subways or buses.  Taxis are plentiful too.  Never a reason to drive drunk in Chicago.  There are multiple ways to get home, trust me, I've used them.

4. Restaurants

You could easily eat out every day for a year or more and never eat at the same restaurant twice.  Chicago is foodie heaven.  The choices seem limitless.  Italian, American, gourmet, casual, Thai, pizza, burgers, fusion, you name it, Chicago probably has it.  I tried my first Thai food in Chicago as well as many other new foods. Look up, a partial list of the places I've tried  is in top menu.

5. Biking

Bicycling is a very popular way to get around town.  I bought a bike my first summer. Soooo came in handy.  I learned quickly to get over my fear of biking on the street.  Many major roads have bike lanes that look really small when you are in a car but are actually spacious (kinda) when on a bike.  I loved riding my bike around on a sunny day especially to the beach then a visit to my favorite gelato shop, Paciugo.

6. Brunch

No city I've visited does brunch quite like Chicago.  I never realized how big a deal brunch can be until I moved.  Of course, I fell in love with the tradition.  One of my favorite places serves tea in real tea cups with teapots.  Isn't that the coolest?  If you're in town, check out Tweet.

7. Variety

The variety of this town extends beyond the different cultures (which I loved!).  There is variety in just about everything.  You want a Korean grocery store? You will find it.  A different activity or sport you've never tried?  Chicago has it.  Want to learn pole dancing or go on a hike around a new neighborhood with a guide?  It's available.  A different festival to go to every week? Yup, you can do it.

8. Bacon

This town loves bacon and so do I.  They even have a festival dedicated to bacon called Baconfest.  Chefs like to put bacon into everything.  Personally, I'm fine with that concept.  I've tried every bacon donut I could find.  Fell in love with candied bacon and bacon flights at various brunch places.  I've tried a bacon bourbon manhattan, bacon ice cream, bacon on cupcakes, bacon stuffed burgers, bacon pizza, you name it.
Bakin' & Eggs
The Southern

2 Sparrows

Friday, December 5, 2014

Brrrr...Visiting the Top of the World

One of my main reasons for wanting to visit Alaska was to go to Barrow.  Barrow is considered the top of the world or at least the top of United States.  It is the farthest most point you can travel in the US unless you are Native Alaskan or are allowed access to tribal lands to travel to Barrow Point.  Barrow is in the no-roads area which means you have to fly in or reach the town via the Arctic Ocean.

Who wouldn't want to visit a place like this?
Beginning of main street along Arctic Ocean
I did not get to spend much time there.  In fact, I only gave myself a day.  I flew in town in the morning and flew back out in the evening.  Two reasons: one, the cost of a night's stay in one of the few hotels costs more than a plane ticket and two, there is not much to do in Barrow unless you have a tour scheduled or family/friends to visit.  Since I did not go during prime visiting time (summer) or travel with someone, scheduling a tour was not possible.  If you do happen to find yourself in Barrow, call Will at Top of the World hotel.  He is one of the local Native Alaskan guides.  In fact, I waited on guests in Denali who recommended him.   When I talked to Will, two people were required to schedule a tour at a cost of $125 per person.  He takes you in a special vehicle out to the point where you are practically guaranteed to see polar bears.  My guests told me he is an excellent guide with thorough knowledge of the area.  I was disappointed to miss this opportunity.

I went to Barrow at the beginning of November when the sun was coming up at 10:30am, the day after the US had daylight saving time change.  Otherwise the sun would have come up at 11:30am.  So odd.  The sun was setting at 3:30pm.  The area was rapidly loosing daylight.

So what did I do while in Barrow?  I walked around and took turns freezing and thawing.  I was deliriously happy to finally be in Barrow that I really didn't care what I did other than see the town and hopefully see a polar bear.  I started by eating at Arctic Pizza.  Surprisingly, the pizza was not as expensive as I thought it would be.  $19.00 for a small cheese pizza, only $5 more than I paid in Denali.  It was really good too.  Super cheesy.  I would recommend the restaurant.  Although it overlooks the Arctic Ocean, don't expect anything fancy.  It is a regular Joe place with slow paced, super friendly service.

This is where I saw a polar bear.  He was way out on the ice.  My phone camera would never be able to pick up the view, unfortunately.  At first, I wasn't sure what I was seeing.  It was walking back and forth.  It must have been on a piece of ice.  My number one Alaskan goal accomplished.  I did overhear at the airport later that the bear had swum up on shore with it's kill.  Luckily, I had stopped walking around about 10 minutes beforehand.
Looking out at the frozen ocean from the front of Arctic Pizza
 After walking around some more, I thawed in a sundry store.  It had a little bit of everything.  Stuff was jam packed.  Tourist stuff, tons of craft items like cloth and yarn, clothes, food, Western Union, similar to a really really small locally owned Walmart.   More walking.  Time to warm up with some hot tea.  I stopped at Sam & Lee's Restaurant.  Check out the prices.  Whoa! Talk about expensive.

Look at this building.  Notice the electrical hookups.  I had to take a picture because this building reminded me of an oldtime Western horse rail only for modern day cars.  Electrical hookups were everywhere.  People tended to leave their cars running while popping into restaurants or stores.  I mean where would a car jacker take the car anyways.  There are only so many roads in town.

The main thing I noticed about the town, besides the cold (-16F, still early in winter), was the blandness of the buildings.  Everything was pretty much void of color.  Very weathered.  It is a grey looking place. Considering the harshness of the weather, it is a wonder the buildings are even standing. 

Check out the airport.  That little building holds security, ticketing, waiting, cargo, you name it.  I found it interesting that people come early, check in their luggage then leave until boarding time.  Imagine being a teenager and having to take a plane to go to your wrestling meet or football game.  That's what these kids here do.  When I landed, there was a large group of teens headed somewhere.  They travel with pillows. When I was leaving, the incoming plane had the large wrestling team and cheerleaders coming back from a tournament in Anchorage.  Pretty cool!

And that was my visit to the Top of the World.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Why I Want to Return to Alaska

I've only been away from Alaska for a month; however, I can't wait to return.  I miss it already.  Why you ask?

Healy, Alaska (October)
Alaska gets in your blood.  I've been hooked since I started researching rural Alaska years ago.  Now that I've been to part of the interior, I really want to go back.  It is hard to describe the state to people who haven't visited.  Pictures don't do it justice.  Alaska is vast.  That is the best word to describe it.  It is freaking large and everything in it is large or appears so.

I did get to see the main reason why I wanted to go in the first place so if I don't get to go back, I'll be satisfied.  However, I want to go back.  There is much more to see.  My main reason to go was to visit Barrow, Alaska and see polar bears in the wild.  Mission accomplished.

Arctic Ocean, Barrow, Alaska (November)
Now I want to see the southern part of the state.  I want to visit the Kenai Peninsula and see Seward, Homer, whales, and the fjords.  Maybe head over to Haines and Skagway and Juneau.  Or maybe the Aleutian Islands.  Or head over to Nome.  Too many places.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sayulita Transportation

Check out below the modes of transportation in Sayulita.  It's kind of an anything goes beach town.

 The typical resort town golf cart is very popular in Sayulita.  There are rental places and some of the hotels rent their own as well as the resident owned golf carts.  There are fancy decked out 4 seaters, 2 seater wagon-looking carts and stripped down "at least I have a cart" versions.

 The four wheeler and motor bike are the most aggressively driven vehicles in town.  They zoom around everywhere.  Watch out.  The drivers will get close to you; however, I was never run down.  When you consider the town roads (cobblestone) and the side roads (shown below), four wheelers make perfect sense.  The dirt road I had to traverse from hostel to town is pot-hole heaven, getting worse with every rainfall.  It is a wonder cars did not break their axles.  Luckily, drivers are cautious when driving down that road.  They go slow and seriously attempt to not splash you.  There is also a consideration given to right of way.  I'm not sure who has the actual right of way but people are generous in waiting.
This picture shows a mild version of this road after it had started to dry up a little. Then we got another rainfall and that puddle went from side to side.  You had to walk on the rock wall or around the other side of that big dirt pile.  The day I was leaving town, workers were filling in the holes with that pile.  Rain season was "officially" over.  I wish I had taken more photos of this crazy road.

See the corner with the tangle of pickup trucks.  It seemed to be the place to park however you felt like.  Every day there was a different configuration of trucks and cars.  Pickups were another popular mode of transportation.  And of course, boats.  Fresh fish and boat tours are commodities in this town as I'm sure they are in every oceanside town.  Thank goodness, the boats were delegated to one end of the main beach.

My choice of transportation:  walking.  Sayulita is a very walkable town.  You can get to everything by walking.