What to do with 3 days in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a pretty small city compared to other Western European capitals, but there’s a ton of sites to see.

A visit to the Red Light District does make for an amusing first time visit. Try not to be an asshole and take pictures, the ladies have protectors who are on the street observing and if you’re caught taking photos, your phone/camera WILL end up in a canal. There’s tons of little sex shops and sex shows everywhere (my personal favorite is laughing at all the cockamamie names of the porn).

Red Light District (away from the windows, so it's ok)

Red Light District (away from the windows, so it’s ok)

Fun fact: only 5% of the women are Dutch. Women of the same heritage are alongside each other in their windows. That’s right, you can stroll through the Latina women, Asian, African, Eastern European, you name it! My favorite is that De Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest church, is in a small square right across from where the Dominican prostitutes have their windows. Also look out for the blue lights, those are the transsexual ladies.

RLD by boat

RLD by boat

De Oude Kerk at night

De Oude Kerk at night

Check out Warmoesstraat! It’s my favorite street in Amsterdam! It’s exactly what you’d picture it to look like. It’s one of the oldest streets and it’s lined with art galleries, coffeeshops, leather bars, quick bites, and fetish shops. It’s very colorful and a great place to spend some time to enjoy the strange juxtapositions that make Amsterdam an amazing city.

Amsterdam Centraal is a marvelous piece of architecture, and unless you are flying in, will be the first place you find yourself in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam Centraal

Amsterdam Centraal

In the center of Amsterdam you can walk along Damrak and eventually hit Amsterdam’s Dam Square (oh how I love that name), the biggest in the city. It has the National Monument and the ornate Dutch Royal Palace, and not surprisingly is filled with tourists. You may not be able to get a picture without anyone else in it, but the architecture is really impressive.

National Monument

National Monument

Dam Square & Royal Palace

Dam Square & Royal Palace

You’ll also find the Sex Museum, which is the first one in the world. It’s worth a quick visit; it’s informative and can easily be done in an hour. But the highlight to Amsterdam’s downtown to me is Begijnhof. It’s a quiet oasis in the middle of downtown, a tranquil little courtyard with a garden and tiny houses. Outside the entrance is a cute little square called Spui.

Beginjhof, my favorite spot in Amsterdam

Begijnhof, my favorite spot in Amsterdam

Beginjhof

Beginjhof

Spui square

Spui square

In the Western Canals there’s the Anne Frank Huis, where she hid captive for many years and of course where her diary was written. I went on my first visit, but I passed it this visit and the line was extremely long. I would recommend getting up early and being the first one there, it definitely is a great museum. Around the block along the canal there is the Homomonument which is a monument dedicated to the plight of LGBT individuals and their continued journey for equal rights worldwide. It may seem visually underwhelming, but it is the first of its kind! Brownie points to Amsterdam.

Western Canals

Western Canals

In the Southern Canals, there’s Rembrandtplein, a fairly large square where locals come to enjoy some sun in the summer, and where many of Amsterdam’s most popping nightclubs are. There’s also the Bloemenmarkt, which is Amsterdam’s flower market, very worthy of some colorful photos.

There is an array of museums that many visit that I’ve never gotten the chance to go which include:

The Van Gogh Museum & Rijkmuseum (where the famous Amsterdam sign is)

The Heineken Experience – a tour of the brewery and some free Heineken included

The Hash, Hemp & Marijuana Museum

The Amsterdam Dungeon (which has displays on all the various methods for medieval torture practiced in Europe)

Rembrandthuis (home to the artist Rembrandt)

Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum

Lastly, Amsterdam has an amazing selection of food! Did you know that Maoz (really good Middle Eastern food and falafel) is from Amsterdam? Waffle stands are everywhere, the traditional Dutch way is to just have it with the caramelized sugar. Although many kebab shops and other places add colorful frosting to the waffles, it’s not traditional but it sure is tasty!

Enjoying the non-authentic waffles

Enjoying the non-authentic waffles

There are tons of Indonesian and Surinamese restaurants. Thanks to Dutch colonialism, these two cultures are very prevalent in Amsterdam. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to eat Indonesian, but I tried Surinamese at Kam Yin, which is very close to Amsterdam Centraal.

Although I was originally skeptical since it’s a Surinamese/Chinese restaurant, this was recommended to me by several Surinamese people that I met throughout my stay. The owner is from Suriname, the décor is Chinese. The Surinamese dishes are very Caribbean: seafood and rice heavy, but the Surinamese spices that are offered on your table are utterly delicious (not for the light-hearted!).

For a taste of Dutch, try Moeders (means mothers in Dutch, how precious). It’s an adorable establishment along a canal in Jordaan where it’s all home-cooked and hearty Dutch food. Inside there’s hundreds of pictures frames of customers and their mothers. If you bring your mother on her birthday, she eats for free and they arrange a special surprise for her. This restaurant was the highlight of Amsterdam and Dutch cuisine for us. The clientele were largely Amsterdam suburbanites who drive a good hour just for hearty homemade cuisine that reminds people of the holidays and the Dutch truly celebrating their culture, it’s a magnificent place to experience. I’ve included the names of what we ate, descriptions available here.

Moeder's

Moeder’s

View from outdoor table

View from outdoor table

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The appetizers! Above: Small egg in the meadow (most precious name ever) Below: Miss pumpkin

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The main course! Above: Hachée Below: Vegetarian Hotchpotch

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Dessert! Above: Dutch Delight Below: Chocolate party is possible (amazing name)

Van Dobben (website only in Dutch) near Rembrandtplein is another place to try Dutch food, specializing in Dutch meats. The meat croquettes are filling and delicious, they’re also open late to cater to drunk clientele.

For drinking, Roest is one of the hotspots with locals right now. Located in the Eastern Docklands of Amsterdam, Roest is set in converted industrial buildings which have outdoor picnic table seating for a nice day, and there’s live music a lot of the time. This is one of the best spots to meet locals in Amsterdam and to get more suggestions about where to go. A small disclaimer, if you arrive after 8pm you will have to take the long way around. There is a pedestrian bridge that closes after 8pm and if you start heading there to find it closed, the detour is about a 20 minute walk. Plan ahead.

Deals:

There is the I Amsterdam City Card which will give you unlimited transport (the trams are extremely efficient and convenient), free entry to many of Amsterdam’s attractions, city map, and access to special offers.

Where to stay:

Flying Pig Downtown – This is my all-time favorite hostel (and I’ve stayed in quite a few). Great location, great atmosphere, great staff and a great set up for the common areas. Rooms are clean and of good value.

Hotel Atlanta – Good value, some rooms overlook Rembrandtplein and very good location to sites in the Southern Canals.

Hotel V Fredericksplein – A little further out in a quiet area, but very sheik and modern looking hotel. Decent value, and breakfast is included and it’s pretty good.

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Amsterdam: History & Dutch Culture

A month ago I had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful city of Amsterdam. Its name just oozes of revel for foreign tourists, and it’s the major cultural epicenter of Dutch culture.

As a New Yorker, I particularly think that Amsterdam is interesting since it’s getting a glimpse into the cultural beginnings of New York before the British came, and I can’t help but wonder how the USA would’ve been different if the Dutch were the major colonial power instead.

Amsterdam canal

Amsterdam canal

Pay a visit to West-Indisch Huis, the building that once housed the Dutch West India Company, which is one of the primary forces of how our world became what it was today. You’re also able to view the dock behind a residential building where Henry Hudson set sail across the Atlantic when he settled and founded modern day Manhattan.

It’s a pretty incredible city despite all that makes it touristy. Yes, there are the coffeeshops and the Red Light District; they are cool to take a gander on your first day in Amsterdam, but I urge that you explore other aspects of Amsterdam after.

Amsterdam's thinnest building

Amsterdam’s thinnest building

The novelty of these things has long worn off in Dutch culture, it’s so normalized that it’s not a big deal. From an outside perspective, Dutch culture is paradoxically a mix of the adorable and the “sin city” aspects. You have the windmills, clogs, tulips, stroopwafels, biking, sprinkles, and canals alongside the legal prostitution, rowdy sex clubs, and legalized soft drugs.

Stroopwafels

Stroopwafels

Clog boat on a canal!! I mean come on!!!

Clog boat on a canal!! I mean come on!!!

Being Dutch means that very little shocks you; they’ve grown to be world famous for their tolerance and embracing of diversity, including immigrants from all over the world and the acceptance of the gay community from very early on (the first to pass same-sex marriage in 2001). If you find yourself here in early August, Amsterdam hosts the only gay pride parade in the world that the floats are on boats!

Although, allegedly some Dutch people do go to coffeeshops in the more local area of Jordaan; regarded by locals as the best area of Amsterdam. There’s also a lesser known Red Light District in the De Pijp area of Amsterdam.

That being said, this was my second visit to Amsterdam so I already knew some things about it. This was my first time in the summer so I really got to enjoy it a lot more. I’ll discuss the sites more in depth in my next post about Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is really meant to be enjoyed at a slow pace. Choose a canal and just stroll down it leisurely (some nice ones include Singel, Herengracht, and Brouwersgracht). One of my favorite things about the city is that its beauty is very different in the daylight and in the nighttime.

Daytime canal

Daytime canal

Nighttime canal vibe

Nighttime canal vibe

Another way to view Amsterdam is through its charming canals. Amsterdam’s canals are an official UNESCO world heritage site, and it’s a completely different outlook of the city. I found it interesting to tour by canal after orienting myself to the city by foot. Certain canals gain a lot of traffic due to small and tight overpasses, in areas you wouldn’t expect.

Something else somewhat unique to Amsterdam is the number of house boats that people live on. They range in how dingy or luxurious they can be. I didn’t get a chance to visit any, but I would imagine it’s rather cold to live on one in the winter!!

AMS by canal boat

House boats

Canal perspective

Canal perspective

Canal ride through Red Light District

Canal ride through Red Light District

I did my canal tour with a Couchsurfer who owned his own boat and gave us a free canal tour, although there’s many canal cruises offered all over the city.

Lastly, you gotta love how diverse Amsterdam is! If Amsterdam were 100 people: 49 people would be Dutch, 16 from other European countries, 9 from Suriname, 9 from Morocco, 5 from Turkey, and 12 would be from elsewhere (thank you LonelyPlanet).

I will post about what to do & see in Amsterdam tomorrow.

Have you been to Amsterdam? What are some of your favorite things about the city?

San Francisco – my favorite city in the USA!

Pardon me for the lack of posts, the summer weather has been very distracting and I’ve taken two separate week long trips to Europe recently, there will be many posts and pictures to post soon. Hope that everyone is having a nice summer so far (if you’re in the northern hemisphere that is). Last month I revisited one of my second homes for the first time in a few years: San Francisco.

Landing in SFO

Landing in SFO

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Hubby in front of a cute house in Cow Hollow

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Magnificent colors of San Francisco

We arrived the weekend before pride weekend so the vibe was getting really hyped for that, in fact in San Francisco they have dubbed the entire month of June “pride month”. Its reputation as the gay Mecca is so felt that you almost can’t tell the difference since every day feels like a part of pride month.

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Street art in the Mission

Rekindling with some of my favorite things in San Francisco was a true joy after years of absence. Some of those things include the nightlife, the stunning architecture, the scenic walks, the beautiful parks, and of course….the food. Some of my favorite spots in the city from previous visits include Japantown, the Castro and the Mission. In Japantown you can enjoy the architecture in the peace plaza, a video store with hundreds of Japanese anime selections, delicious sushi places including a cute place where little sushi boats pass by seats at the sushi bar (beware, it gets addicting and the bill adds up), and even Japanese crepes! The Castro has great gay bars and restaurants and the famous Castro theatre. The Mission has great places to sample Mexican and Salvadorian food, go to brunch along Valencia, and sun tanning in Mission Dolores Park is a must-see for anyone on their first visit.

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Mission Dolores Park aka “gay beach”

On this visit, I got to see some of my friends whom I haven’t seen in years! My friend Christian who recently moved from New York picked us up at the airport and showed us his area called Visitacion Valley, owing to San Francisco’s Spanish influence. It’s a quiet area in the southern part of the city filled with Chinese families, quaint houses, and scenic views at McLaren Park.

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View of Visitacion Valley

McLaren Park

McLaren Park

Even though I spent a whole month in 2011 exploring the city, I still hadn’t seen everything so I decided to get a new orientation for the city. San Francisco is pretty easy to circumnavigate by foot or bus, but some things are just out there are hard to get to. Thanks to Christian, we were able to visit some of San Francisco’s harder to reach points. We started with the gorgeous Twin Peaks, arguably the best scenic view of San Francisco. It’s located in the southern part of the city, and affords panoramic views of multiple angles of the city. You have to fight your way through some tourists to get a good picture, but it’s well worth it.

Christian & I with a view from Twin Peaks

Christian & I with a view from Twin Peaks

For lunch, we met with my friend Katie who is an Oakland native and checked out the cleverly named SoMa SteEat Food Park, where you can get really fresh food of any sort of ethnic variety at a reasonable price from the numerous food carts or a few sit-down places. I tried the paella spot and the Burmese cuisine, both very good choices.

Stack of logs for the brick oven pizza spot, now that's fresh!

Stack of logs for the brick oven pizza spot, now that’s fresh!

We proceeded to check out the Richmond District, where there isn’t much to see per se, but along Geary Blvd there’s some nice architecture in the form of Russian churches and dozens of restaurants and coffee shops. We got a refreshing bubble tea at Infini Tea, which has a wide variety of flavors of milk tea spanning from quirky to conventional. They even have a happy hour for discounted teas and quick snack foods. Afterwards, we made our way to Sutro Baths at the end of the Outer Richmond District along the Pacific Ocean. In its heyday in the 1890s, Sutro Baths was the largest indoor swimming complex in the world, with natural pools of salt water that were fed by the ocean during high tide. There were also many cultural exhibits, and the creator of the baths even made a railway to increase visitation to the baths due to its isolated location along the sea. It was wildly successful up until the Great Depression and after years of decline it was mysteriously burnt down, arousing conspiracy theories. The ruins remain beautiful and protected by the National Park Service, and it’s a great way to spend a few hours exploring the sea caves, walking along the ruins of the baths, and hiking up the trails with incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge by the cliff sides.

Christian was a bubble tea virgin!

Christian was a bubble tea virgin!

Sutro Baths from above

Sutro Baths from above

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Ocean views from Sutro Baths

My friends Juan & Kevin hosted us for the weekend in their apartment in Nob Hill, and they showed us some cute little spots in the neighborhood. We had dinner at the Bell Tower, which was very good considering that I usually don’t go for bar food. Also, the staff is beyond friendly and the service was excellent. Another amazing place we ate at that weekend was the Pancho Villa Taqueria right on 16th Street down the block from the BART station in the Mission District. The lines are really long, but the authenticity of the food and the quality of the ingredients are unbeatable, even to Mission standards.

Cute houses in Nob Hill

Cute houses in Nob Hill

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Kevin, me, Juan and hubby at The Bell Tower

Kevin, me, Juan and hubby at The Bell Tower

Juan & Kevin & Mexican food <3

Juan & Kevin & Mexican food ❤

Also while I was in town I had the pleasure of seeing Beach Blanket Babylon, a San Francisco staple. It’s the longest running musical revue in the world complete with an over the top performance with highly extravagant and detailed costumes and wigs. I’m lucky enough that my host is in charge of the entire wigs department so not only did he hook us up, but he gave us a tour backstage and a behind the scenes look of the wardrobe department, where we got to meet some of the actors before the performance. It’s an experience definitely not to be missed as the show is highly entertaining and extremely unique.

Back stage at BBB

Back stage at BBB

Wardrobe at BBB

Wardrobe at BBB

The remainder of the trip was spent just leisurely strolling the streets for beautiful houses and buildings in the gorgeous areas of the Nob Hill, Cow Hollow, Telegraph Hill, and North Beach. I’d definitely recommend doing most of San Francisco by foot since you’ll pass by so many unexpected treasures that way. The buildings are ornate, detailed, and colorful, and every street looks different. And of course, the San Francisco hills, fog, street cars and view of the bay add to the dramatic effect of this gorgeous one-of-a-kind city.

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

Old theater in the Mission

Old theater in the Mission

Street art in the Mission

Street art in the Mission

More street art in the Mission

More street art in the Mission

Have you ever been to San Francisco? What are some of your favorite experiences you’ve had here?

Queens Pride in Jackson Heights

New York City is quite the destination during gay pride season, seeing as there’s not only a pride festival for each individual borough, but also Harlem as well. My personal favorite is Queens Pride, since not only is it in my all time favorite NYC neighborhood but it’s a very unique setting. Jackson Heights masters the art of gay neighborhood bars and clubs, with a really fun-loving Latino crowd. I’ve been going to these gay bars since 2008, and it’s one of the few places that haven’t been tainted by gentrification, brunch culture, and circuit parties in NYC. That is not to say that it doesn’t get crowded and crazy, I’ve had many fun nights here partying. But the people who go are what really make it special. It’s a mainly low-key Spanish speaking crowd in bars that have drag shows in Spanish, and all types of Latin music. It’s definitely fun to check out if you’ve never experienced it before.

My husband & I at Queens pride

My husband & I at Queens pride

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Various hilarious and creative costumes in the parade

Take the E,F,M,R, or 7 train to 74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue to arrive in Jackson Heights. The pride festivities consist of:

  • a parade (that marches down 37th Avenue, 1-2 blocks north of the subway),
  • two main stages with drag shows, dancing & singing performances, and a ton of street carts and vendors (concentrated on 37th Road, 1 block north of the subway),
  • the bars and clubs are spread out but mainly on Roosevelt Avenue in a 12 block radius.

In the parade there are familiar faces (the famed Miss Colombia who appears at just about every parade in NYC), local politicians, and various cultural groups from all over the city – many catering to different groups of color (LGBT North Africans for example), The choices for gay bars include Hombres Lounge (younger crowd, hookahs available), Friend’s Tavern, The Music Box, True Colors (all neighborhood bars, the first 2 having outdoor space), and Club Evolution (3 bars and ample space to dance and socialize). Besides the gay choices, there’s tons of Latino sports and dive bars to hang out at, all very reasonably priced. Queens pride tends to get crowded, but nowhere near as crowded as Manhattan and unlike on Christopher Street there’s much more space for movement in Queens.

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Perfect plumage

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The famed Miss Colombia

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Eat your heart out Lady Gaga circa 2010 #queenswhorecycle

Where Carinval meets Pride!

Where Carinval meets Pride!

And don’t get me started on the food. Jackson Heights is the most diverse zip code in the world, the population being mixed Latino from the Caribbean, Central America, and South American, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and a sprinkling of old-school Italian and Russian communities. Needless to say, it’s a festival in one of the most ethnically blessed neighborhoods ever, the options are unlimited. Colombian empanadas, tacos, momos, curry kebab, rice & beans, and Thai fried rice are just some of your choices here. These are some of the many reasons that I’m proud to show off Queens, and I’m ok with most people living in NYC thinking that it’s lame here since it keeps a more authentic feel to what it means to be from Queens.

Have you been to Jackson Heights? What about Queens pride?

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!!!!

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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?

Portland, Oregon day trips

Portland, Oregon is situated among great hiking and nature options that don’t fail to impress. The Columbia River Gorge is only about 30 minutes away from the city center and the seaside is about 90 minutes. I was able to accomplish both in one very-long-but-so-worth-it kind of day.

First up was the Gorge. After you pass Troutdale, the road goes almost right along the Columbia River which affords great views of the gorge to your right, and Washington State to your left. There are many state parks and recreation areas abutting the landscape. There was one that I didn’t visit but found particularly unexpected was Rooster Rock State Park. At this park there are clothing optional beaches and even a gay cruising area, not something I would’ve imagined along a river in Oregon with the Lewis & Clark insignia; but that’s the best part of the Pacific Northwest – it’s full of surprises.

View of Multnomah Falls from the road. the greenery!

View of Multnomah Falls from the road. the greenery!

As for the rest of the Lewis & Clark State Park areas, it’s filled with gorgeous scenic viewpoints, waterfalls, creeks, and trails. Thanks to the abundant rainfall in this part of the country, these are the greenest greens that I’ve ever seen in the USA. I’m sure every Oregon teenager is sick to death of hearing about Lewis & Clark thanks to school field trips, but I thought it was interesting having history meet with nature. Be sure to check out Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in the gorge (this area is also the wettest part of the gorge, bring a jacket!). The gorge also has a lot of fun hikes for all experience levels and a great viewpoint at the Vista House.

Lower part of the falls

Lower part of the falls

Hiking by a creek

Hiking by a creek

Majestic waterfalls everywhere

Majestic waterfalls everywhere

The hubby, my friend Emily who hosted us, and myself

The hubby, my friend Emily who hosted us, and myself

Being silly at the Vista Point

Being silly at the Vista Point

Columbia River Gorge from above

Columbia River Gorge from above

The Oregon coast is a quick 90 minute drive from Portland, and it’s the scenic route. Shortly after leaving Beaverton the highway becomes a two lane road through some gorgeous farmland leading up to the ocean. The best part is that you can’t tell the ocean is coming until you’re practically on top of it. We chose to visit Cannon Beach and Astoria, which are both famous movie locations! The Goonies was shot at both, and Kindergarten Cop was shot in Astoria. This was probably wasted on me seeing as I haven’t seen either! However, Cannon Beach was just about the most adorable beach town I’ve ever seen. We visited during low tide, and there was what seemed like a massive jellyfish genocide on the beach. The walk was really long from the landing to the water, and the whole beach was strewn with dead jellyfish. The water was absolutely freezing; it almost reminded me of Maine. The coastline isn’t craggy though, and it almost appears to go on forever. The scenery of Haystack Rock alongside the misty air and clear sand made it a very pretty sight. In town we went to a kitschy 50s style candy store called The Picnic Basket. Their selection is overwhelming but some of the highlights were the Tabasco-flavored chocolate, flavored crickets, and the softest fudge I’ve ever had in my life (my favorite being the cookie dough fudge). The staff was really humorous and put up with us trying a sample of about 9 different fudges, definitely worth a visit.

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach at low tide

Seaside homes in Cannon Beach

Seaside homes in Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock, made famous by the Goonies

Haystack Rock, made famous by the Goonies

The Picnic Basket, Cannon Beach

The Picnic Basket, Cannon Beach

Being silly in the Picnic Basket

Being silly in the Picnic Basket

Next we drove up to Astoria for some dinner while it was approaching dusk. Astoria is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go because of the way it looks on a map, and since Astoria is one of my favorite areas in Queens. All you need is a little curiosity to find something special. Astoria has some pretty buildings and a small downtown area. We decided on having a meal at Buoy Beer Company on the water. It is situated on a wooden dock, and below the dock there were some pieces of wood connecting the beams, and this huge pack of these sea lions were relaxing and barking in clear sight from the dock. Inside the restaurant there was a section of floor made of glass where the sea lions were also chilling underneath. Isn’t that just exactly what you would picture out of a Pacific Northwest coastal experience? To just add to the preconceived notion, our waitress was this very soft spoken Alaskan lady whose soothing voice could sell you bath products blind. The food was absolutely delectable, the vibe was super relaxed and enjoyable, and the beers delicious and local. I had the habanero oyster deviled eggs which were flavorful, and the local specialty: the baked salmon and SALMON JERKY. Not only was it the freshest salmon I’ve ever eaten, but what a quirky and unexpected choice (this was also my first time having jerky).

Baked salmon and salmon jerky!

Baked salmon and salmon jerky!

Astoria architecture

Astoria architecture

Art can be found anywhere, especially the streets. Thank you Astoria

Art can be found anywhere, especially the streets. Thank you Astoria

She <3's Ms. Pacman!

She <3’s Ms. Pacman!

Sea lions resting under the pier (sorry for the glare from the glass)

Sea lions resting under the pier (sorry for the glare from the glass)

Have you been to the Oregon coast or the Columbia River gorge? What were some of your favorite experiences?

St. Louis Part 2

The friendliness of the locals I met in St. Louis was nearly unprecedented. I couchsurfed with a couple in Lafayette Square and I really got to experience what the locals do there. STL has tons of really cute local spots. In the Benton Park area I got to see some of the houses and the park, and this one bar called Venice Café. It was reminiscent of the ruin pubs in Budapest in the sense that there are a lot of found items creating an assault-on-the-senses vibe filled with colorful and wacky installations. It’s a huge quirk-fest. There’s a great outdoor space and live music there as well, a truly remarkable local establishment.

One of our couchsurfing hosts Megan being silly with a concrete

One of our couchsurfing hosts Megan being silly with a concrete

Outside Venice Cafe

Outside Venice Cafe

All seeing eye at Venice Cafe

All seeing eye at Venice Cafe

Have a slice of brain birthday cake

Have a slice of brain birthday cake

Street art at Venice Cafe

Street art at Venice Cafe

We ended up having a bit of an all-nighter with our hosts which resulted in their friend opening his sporadically in-use speakeasy for our visit. Their friend Dick has a legit speakeasy in his basement that was used during prohibition; it was a piece of history. Everyone was really friendly and open about sharing what it meant to be from St. Louis. Dick even showed us his classic TV from the 1960s which he held onto for the speakeasy (unfortunately pictures cannot do this experience any justice).

The variety of food is also very impressive in St. Louis. Areas to check out for this are the Grove and Cherokee St. You can find anything in this city! I passed through Afghani, Mexican, Nicaraguan, Nepali, Peruvian, Italian, German, Japanese, you name it! I can attest that you can get an authentic Mexican meal for a good price at La Vallesana on Cherokee St. Good prices and ample outdoor area, alongside the oozing delicious and authentic Mexican cuisine makes this place a winner, even to high New Yorker standards. For a taste of some awesome deep dish pizza check out Black Thorn Pub where you can get behemoth and spicy deep dishes and play shuffleboard while the pizza is cooking. Who could forget some St. Louis specialties? Ted Drewes’ cannot be missed for its frozen custard. It is lovingly referred to as concretes because if you stick the spoon in it and put it upside your spoon won’t fall out! It draws a lot of Route 66 fans since it’s along the route. Nearby, there’s Gooey Louie which is famous for their extra buttery mini-cakes, which you could probably only handle one per sitting; you be the judge.

Gooey butter cake

Gooey butter cake

Horchata and other beverage at La Vallesana

Horchata and other beverage at La Vallesana

Amazing shrimp burrito at La Vallesana

Amazing shrimp burrito at La Vallesana

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Waiting in line to get some concretes at Ted Drewes

Ted Drewes' right off Route66

Ted Drewes’ right off Route66

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Concretes!!

Other famous things to come out of St. Louis include: 7Up, Nelly, Maya Angelou, Sheryl Crow, Chuck Berry, Yogi Berra, Andy Cohen, Panera (which is locally known as St. Louis Bread Company or “Bread Co.”), Miles Davis, Jon Hamm, TS Eliot, and Tennessee Williams, among many others.

St. Louis Bread Co!! It exists

St. Louis Bread Co!! It exists

I found St. Louis to be filled to the brim with surprises and charming treasures. It’s a city dying to be explored. Have you been to St. Louis? What are some of your favorite places or experiences?