Portland, the perfect city?

What’s to say about Portland, Oregon? It might just be my perfect city. A city that’s not too big, not too small. A city that’s filled with insanely quirky and interesting people. A city filled with endless moments that are indescribable, like where else can you see an annual naked bike ride that attracts thousands of participants? Or perhaps a mini Marilyn Manson act? Only in the PDX baby.

Portland stealing it's twin sister city's Austin's motto

Portland stealing it’s twin sister city’s Austin’s motto

Architecture in Old Town

Architecture in Old Town

Old Town Portland

Old Town Portland near Skidmore Fountain

Portland was my first visit to the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve been enchanted. The weather is unlike the northeastern USA with harsh, and cold winters. This winter in Portland it didn’t even snow once! The Pacific Northwest gets temperate winters, with just an abundant amount of rainfall (which contributes to Portland’s amazing greenery in close proximity to the city center). Sure, it may snow in the mountains of Washington and Oregon, but I’ll take a Portland winter over a New York City one any day. One of my favorite spots on my visit was the Pittock Mansion on the inner outskirts of Portland. The drive is beautiful, swerving through steep roads up a mountain, with which you are rewarded with a gorgeous hilltop mansion where you’re able to picnic (we had a delicious vegan picnic with groceries from New Seasons Market) with some views of Portland’s greenery.

Vegan picnic at Pittock Mansion

Vegan picnic at Pittock Mansion

Not to mention there is an incredible variety of food trucks all around the city (dangerous for someone like me). I mean come on…. I had the privilege of trying MAURITIAN food. Who would’ve ever seen that coming? Its cuisine is a mix of Creole, French, Indian, and Chinese. Can you say yum? Be sure to check it out when you come, it’s called Chez Dodo. Portland also has an intimidating amount of organic, farm to table, and vegan/vegetarian foods (of insanely creative varieties). Don’t even get me started on Voodoo Donut! It completely lives up to the hype, luckily I was able to go twice without any insane line. But this place literally has everything, I tried the maple glazed donut, the oreo donut, and the classic voodoo donut which is a voodoo doll complete with a little pretzel which you press into the donut and it bleeds with jelly. They’re also famous for the cock and balls donut, popularized by bachelorette parties in Portland. The aesthetic of the store and the friendly staff, along with the incredible product make this place a classic and just unbeatable. You definitely won’t go hungry in Portland.

Chez Dodo - Mauritian food truck!

Chez Dodo – Mauritian food truck!

Menu at Chez Dodo

Menu at Chez Dodo

Poori on the top, Pulao on the bottom, Delicious all around

Voodoo Donuts!!!!

Voodoo Donuts!!!!

IMG_2374

Voodoo’s interior decor

Creative menu

Creative menu

The selection

The selection

OREO DONUT!!

OREO DONUT!!

Other spots to check out are the N Mississippi Ave and NE Alberta Ave districts, which are filled with quirky shops, tantalizing food carts, outdoor seating restaurants, and much more Portland vibes. Downtown Portland also has Pioneer Square, which is worth a view. Additionally, there’s the Portlandia statue, which is hidden on top of a roof of a building behind some trees, but worth seeking out because it’s much bigger than you’d imagine. It’s also the second largest cast-iron statue in the country after the Statue of Liberty. There’s something almost threatening or menacing about this iron beauty, adding to the charm of Portland.

N Mississippi Avenue

N Mississippi Avenue

N Mississippi Ave

N Mississippi Ave

Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square

Portlandia Statue

Portlandia Statue

Transport in Portland is very easy to navigate with buses, light rail, and ample amount of Car2Go. This was my first experience driving a Car2Go and it was 3 of us, so it was quite humorous all of us squeezing into a smartcar –  felt more like a clown car.

Portland may be in one of the newer states, but it doesn’t mean it’s without its interesting history. Portland was once a den of all types of illegal activity, I learned a lot on a walking tour explaining about underground business and lifestyles in Portland. What’s funny to me is that it seems rather unexpected since the contemporary culture of Portland is very socially conscious, aware, relaxed, and almost wholesome. To see that it was born from a place with a rather sinister history makes it that much cooler to me. The tour was just under 2 hours, you learn a lot about the racist policies that governed Portland and affected its early Chinese, Japanese, and African-American communities. Additionally you learn about the somewhat legal practice of Shanghaiing and how ship captains got away with it, and made profits from it.

One of Portland's many bridges over the Willamette River

One of Portland’s many bridges over the Willamette River

Portland is a prime example of why I’ve been drawn to the culture and the attitudes of the western states. Their ancestors were the opportunists of the time. They rolled with the punches and made their own way in the Wild West. Their laid-back vibe just screams freedom, a healthy antidote to the overworked and sarcastic northeastern culture. I can’t wait to explore the area more.

Have you ever been to Portland? What were your impressions? Recommendations for my next visit?

Ridiculous (and free) first night in Eilat, Israel

It was November 2011 in Israel. I was on a bus heading to Eilat with my crazy travel companion, a beautiful and out of her mind Jewish Argentine girl named Nena. We’re on the bus where we met this Israeli guy named Gus and his friend Azaf, who is a little person. Nena and Gus were smoking a cigarette at a pit stop before we headed into the Negev desert. Nena befriends Gus and gets us free alcohol. Gus and Azaf join us and sit with us, and Gus immediately starts pouring us vodka beverages. At 1pm. We oblige. There was minimal communication with Azaf since he doesn’t speak any English but he’s encouraging enough with his smiles. We’re laughing, and before you know it we obliterated a bottle of vodka between the four of us, and we’re in Eilat. Gus casually says “Ok well we’re going to my best friend’s Mazie’s place you should come join us for dinner”. We oblige, luggage and all, and found ourselves surrounding a coffee table with 12 other Israelis who spoke not a word of English. We were a little uncomfortable but they were feeding us and giving us all this alcohol, which doesn’t need any translation to anyone of the backpacker variety.

Suddenly, all of Mazie’s friends are gone and they suggest we go to the ice bar. Mind you, Nena had 2 shekels in her wallet, and I had 0. Gus and Mazie pay for everything, and next thing we know we have a photoshoot done and there’s 75 pictures of us donned out in the ice bar gear (several of which I was giving Azaf a piggy-back ride). We’re having fun going down the ice slide, taking shots, and taking cheesy photos. While our tour guide was distracted, Nena and I were behind the bar taking even more shots of vodka.

We get back to Mazie’s place at 1.30am. When it looked like we were going to stay in Mazie blurts out NO WE ARE GOING OUT. She calls up her friend “FatBitch” and we go to her place where we continue to drink and smoke shisha (because that’s what all Israelis like to do while pregaming). We go to a club, FatBitch buys us all shots. We are particularly alluring to the club photographer and pursues to take perhaps 40 photos of us. That night is better documented than my high school and college graduation combined, believe me. The club was fun, and the night was a success because Nena and I didn’t spend not even 1 shekel. We are walking back to Mazie’s place where she said we could stay the night. A few blocks before we arrive to Mazie’s place she flirts with a HotGardener. It’s 5am. Mazie gives HotGardener her phone number.

Gus is sleeping in Mazie’s bed, the 4 of us cuddle. We only met half a day ago. Mazie wakes us up at 8am to kick us out of bed. HotGardener is coming over for a booty call. Nena and I proceed to the kitchen. We some cereal bars and fruits. 7 minutes go by and Mazie is kicking HotGardener out of the apartment, turns out he was a one minute man. Eilat is too small of a town for this to not go unnoticed.

We leave to go to the hostel we were supposed to be checked into the night before. The HostelOwner is obviously pissed we didn’t show up. HostelOwner wants to charge us for the night even though we weren’t there. We tell HostelOwner that our bus broke down in the middle of the Negev dessert and we were stranded overnight for 11 hours before a replacement arrived and that we caught colds in the cold of the desert (this comes back to bite us in the ass later). HostelOwner doesn’t buy it. Nena threatens to bring our business elsewhere, HostelOwner abides. Jews outsmarting Jews.

Moral of the story is when traveling, go with the flow and oblige and random things will happen to you. And to travel with someone equally ridiculous and spontaneous as you.

So what was our logical next move? Not to sleep of course but to mount a camel….to be continued.

Time to go!

Dear followers,

I’m leaving today for a 3-week jaunt to the Midwest! Starting off in Chicago to stay with my best friend, then going to see a friend in the Milwaukee area, then we are taking a week-long road trip up to northern Minnesota and then the twin cities Minneapolis and St. Paul. And then on the way back, pass through the mysterious state of Iowa. And once back in Chicago we will head over and experience all that is Detroit. If time permits, maybe even see a friend in Cleveland. The Midwest is not the most commonly traveled area of the country, but it’s a shame because there’s some beautiful scenery around the Great Lakes. But that’s fine, more adventure for those who seek it 🙂

Where are you going in the near future? Share your travel plans and ideas in this post or any post on my blog. Are you from the Midwest? Have any suggestions for some must-see place for me to go to?

 

Happy travels and get lost!

-The Wanderlust Guru

 

PS – I have now connected my Instagram with my WordPress, so feel free to follow me on Instagram @wanderlustguru so you can keep track of the pictures of my Midwest jaunt and all my future travels.

Long Island Gold Coast Part 2

Sticking to the Gold Coast theme, I also had the pleasure of visiting Oheka Castle about a month ago in Huntington, NY. It is the second largest private residency in the United States at an impressive 115,000 square footage. It is no longer a residency, and is now converted into an upscale hotel and as a site to host special events such as weddings (Kevin Jonas and Joey Fatone both had their weddings here). Scandalously enough, I learned after my visit that the owner of the castle, Gary Melius, was shot 3 times in the parking lot a mere 3 days before my visit.

I have lived on Long Island for the majority of my life, and have been around the area of these 2 estates several times, but never made it. Now I’m glad that I was able to put aside some time to explore my area more, which enriches my understanding of the history of Long Island and how it forms such a unique culture. Long Island is in the shadow of New York City, yet life remains very suburban and simple despite its proximity to the city. The island is massively overcrowded and traffic is an accepted reality of everyday life. The population is steadily on the rise, and in a place so starved for space it’s interesting to see the wide open acreage of estates such as this.  

 

Traveling for cheaper – how to save on accommodation

It really flabbergasts me every time when people are so amazed at what I do when I travel. There’s nothing new about budget travel. It’s not innovative, it’s not up-and-coming, and it’s just plain practical to me. As with many industries in this world, marketing is created to have us perceive travel in a certain way. Do you really think that in far off destinations like the islands in southern Thailand, Bali, Barbados etc. that the only way to travel is by a 5-star all-inclusive luxury resorts? Is that what the locals do when they’re traveling within their own country? The sky is the limit in terms of options for the way you can travel. You have the ability to make your own decisions while you travel. If you decide that’s through a hotel, so be it. But there are plenty of other options that can save you money and allow you to travel for longer periods of time, or more frequently. I’ll take the latter choice, every time. Here are a few of the basic options that could save you a buck and help you travel better. 

  1. Hostels – Of course there’s the classic option of hostels – to which I always get the responses “OH MY GOD, haven’t you seen the movie hostel?? I would never stay in one of those places, I could get killed!” Well…first off how do you think those places stay in business if all their customers are getting killed off? I’ll get into this further in another post. But, hostels are a great value option. Most cost around $25 a night in a shared dorm (depending on the country some can be way cheaper). Most people who are staying in hostels are looking for the exact same thing as you – just to have fun and make memories while traveling. Your setting already proves that you’re like-minded in this way, and through my experiences I’ve met amazing individuals in hostels whom I had great nights out with, great days exploring the city together, and have even kept in contact down the line and hosted/been hosted by them later on. Hostels are a great way to meet lifelong friends on the road!
  2. AirBnB – another great budget option if you want to have a little bit more privacy and you wanted to just make a trip with your friends. It is a very reputable website which allows you rent out someone’s apartment or a room in their apartment for a much cheaper price than a hotel. You read through people’s profiles and access whether they are a good match based on the location of their apartments, the pictures of their apartment, and you have access to previous reviews that they have from customers who have rented out their apartment before. (Other rental sites include wimdu & roomorama).
  3. CouchSurfing – my personal favorite. Another aura of negativity surrounds the idea of CouchSurfing to the untrained eye. “Stay at someone’s place with them? What if you stay with a crazy ax murderer?” Another silly fear that I find humorous because I’ve made amazing connections with my time using CouchSurfing. Just like AirBnb, you scout out people’s personal profiles so you already have an idea whether your host is a good match for you based on their interests, you get to read about their past experiences in previous reviews, and of course any good profile has pictures of the individual (many include them traveling to different locations so you can see they’re looking for the same things as you) . And obviously you will already be communicating back and forth with your potential host to explain the details of your trip and you’ll get a sense of who they are before you even meet them. I’ll include a separate post about the great connections I’ve made through CouchSurfing in another post.