Portland Food Carts

In October 2014, my mom and I spent a girls weekend in Portland, Oregon with my aunt. One of the highlights of the weekend was visiting a Portland food cart pod. What is a food cart pod? A wonderful collection of eclectic food trucks gathered together in one place offering foodies a lot of choices at reasonable prices. It’s also something that Portland is known for.

It was a beautiful afternoon, unseasonably warm and sunny. We did one quick spin through the carts, getting an idea of what was offered before splitting up to find what appealed to each of us.

Portland Food Pod

Portland Food Pod

My mom, a very picky eater, ended up at a Filipino cart where she ordered a type of egg roll.

My Mom Ordering Filipino Food

My Mom Ordering Filipino Food

I wandered around looking for something that I haven’t tried before. The pods in Portland are great because more adventurous eaters can find things just as easily as pickier eaters; however, even familiar food can have an interesting twist.

Familiar Food With A Twist

Familiar Food With A Twist

I finally stumbled across a Scandinavian cart. I had never had Scandinavian food before and couldn’t wait to try it.

Scandinavian Truck

Scandinavian Truck

I ordered a Norwegian meatball wrap on lefse bread with cheese sauce for $6.25. I’ll be honest, it was pretty bland for someone used to eating Indian, African and Honduran food. But it was something new and that was important to me.

Norwegian Meatball Wrap

Norwegian Meatball Wrap

My aunt chose an amazing combo from Belize that was around $7.

Combo Plate From Belize

Combo Plate From Belize

The Portland food carts bring a chance to try something new along with a melting pot of cultures to immerse yourself in. Where else can you share a Filipino, Belizean, Norwegian meal?

 

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at Home

Most of us cannot travel whenever we would like; however we can celebrate different cultures and locations as often as we choose. Creating an Irish-inspired meal on March 17th is an easy way to celebrate a different country.

This year I made Reuben sandwiches with Olykraut sauerkraut. Olykraut products (www.olykraut.com) are made in Olympia, Washington and come in a variety of flavors. I used their garlic sauerkraut as well as their sour pickles.

Reuben Ingredients

Reuben Ingredients

For the corned beef I mixed 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 1/2 tsp ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp paprika and the pickling spice packet included with the corned beef. I rubbed the mixture into both sides of the corned beef. After rubbing the spices onto the meat, I wrapped the corned beef 4 times in aluminum foil and then placed the foil wrapped corned beef into a slow cooker for 8 hours on low (do not add any liquid to the slow cooker).

The corned beef came out moist and flavorful. I also made a homemade Russian dressing with 2 Tbsp finely diced onions, 1 cup of mayo, 1/4 cup ketchup, 1/4 tsp paprika and a splash of Worcestershire sauce.

I placed sliced Swiss cheese, corned beef, sauerkraut and some Russian dressing onto 2 slices of toasted dark rye bread and accompanied the sandwiches with the sour pickles.

Finished Reuben

Finished Reuben

For dessert, I used a key lime cake mix to make a green bundt cake topped with key lime frosting (out of a can). I know a key lime cake isn’t Irish, but it certainly ticked the box for the green requirement that comes along with St. Patrick’s Day.

Green Bundt Cake

Green Bundt Cake

 

Clonmacnoise, Ireland

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I would talk about one of the most beautiful and tranquil areas of Ireland. The monastic site of Clonmacnoise is nestled next to a wide stretch of the River Shannon. Founded in 544, Clonmacnoise is in County Offaly.

Celtic Cross at Clonmacnoise

Celtic Cross at Clonmacnoise

I came to Clonmacnoise on an organized bus tour by CIE Tours in September 2006. The weather was overcast and rainy which added to the magical feel of this place. We were given a short guided tour with a local guide and then everyone went to the onsite cafe for a hot coffee. I, however, stayed outside, having the entire site to myself.

Monastic site of Clonmacnoise

Monastic site of Clonmacnoise

The ground was soft from the rains and the air smelled fresh but what struck me the most is how quiet it was here. The only sound was the River Shannon as it flowed past this ancient site. It was just me standing there, listening to the river, surrounded by the tombs of the ancient Irish Kings of Tara. Some of the tombs were so old that they were half sunk into the grounds, all traces of who they were worn off with time.

Ancient tombs of Clonmacnoise

Ancient tombs of Clonmacnoise

Having this place to myself made me want to cry. The history and beauty were overwhelming and I had them all to myself. I will never forget that feeling. Ireland is in my blood and I felt connected to this place, like I was part of it at that moment.

I continued wandering around while a light mist fell, amplifying the lush shades of green.

Worn tombstones at Clonmacnoise

Worn tombstones at Clonmacnoise

Nowhere have I felt more peaceful than wandering among these tombstones, which is ironic because Clonmacnoise saw its fair share of bloodshed as it was raided many times by Vikings sailing on the Shannon. Monastic sites often held treasures and were raided by Vikings regularly. This is why the doors on the round towers were well above ground. The monks could pull up the ladders, making it difficult for the raiders (Irish, Viking and Normans) to steal the treasures.

Round tower at Clonmacnoise

Round tower at Clonmacnoise

My explorations took me into the ruins of a small church,

Ruins at Clonmacnoise

Ruins at Clonmacnoise

and among the Celtic crosses.

Celtic crosses

Celtic crosses

While aimlessly wandering, I stumbled upon this staircase. You can almost imagine these stairs leading to another time.

Staircase at Clonmacnoise

Staircase at Clonmacnoise

I had about two hours to wander this wonderful place, tucked next to the famous Shannon river, by myself. Thanks to the Irish mist, which kept everyone away, I had a once in a lifetime experience. Having an ancient site all to myself, no cell phones ringing, no talking, nothing to distract me from the beauty that is Clonmacnoise.

Clonmacnoise

Clonmacnoise

LA Travel & Adventure Expo 2015

On February 21st, my husband and I headed down to Long Beach, California to attend our first LA Travel & Adventure Expo.

Long Beach, California

Long Beach, California

It was an easy flight from Spokane to LA. I had pre-booked a Supershuttle shared ride for us which I recommend whenever you don’t want to drive yourself or take a taxi.
I used www.booking.com to reserve a room at the Rodeway Inn, in Long Beach which was easy walking distance from the Long Beach Convention Center. The rooms were updated and comfortable. One great surprise we encountered in our room was the array of toiletries offered.
After we checked in, we headed over to the convention center just in time to listen to Phil Keoghan, host of the Amazing Race. What a treat to listen to him in person after watching him on TV for so many years. He went over some behind-the-scenes tidbits from the Amazing Race that excited us for the new season.
After his talk, he was kind enough to offer a meet-and-greet. When it was our turn to meet him he was more than gracious and struck up a conversation with us.

Meet and greet with Phil Keoghan

Meet and greet with Phil Keoghan

We spent some time after that looking at the various booths, representing locations such as China, Guatemala, Italy and the U.S.

Colorful Thailand booth

Colorful Thailand booth

Later that night we caught the Passport bus (free) at the convention center and took it to the Queen Mary for an evening tour.

The Passport bus is a great way to get around Long Beach for free. End of the line is the Queen Mary and on the weekends the bus runs until after midnight so no need for a cab.

The Queen Mary at twilight

The Queen Mary at twilight

It’s a good idea to pre-book evening Queen Mary tours as they do sell out. I bought ours online before we left Spokane and when we got there, all evening tours were sold out.

Queen Mary

Queen Mary

Our tour lasted for about an hour, however we went a bit early and had a chance to look at the model ships on display. There is also a bar and several restaurants if you are looking for a nice meal or cocktail.

Before heading back to the Travel Expo the following day, we went to the Breakfast Bar, located next door to the Rodeway Inn, for breakfast. The Breakfast Bar is a hip and warm eatery, offering coffee in real coffee mugs while you wait. Everyone we encountered was friendly and treated us like we were locals (even though I had a camera around my neck).

The Breakfast Bar

The Breakfast Bar

My husband ordered a breakfast burrito, which came with several choices of local hot sauces.

Kevin with his breakfast burrito

 

I ordered the eggs benedict with sausage on homemade rosemary bread.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict

The food was fresh and tasty and the service was amazing.

After breakfast, we headed to our second day at the Travel show. There were two speakers on Sunday that I couldn’t wait to hear. First, Josh Gates, star of Destination Truth and Expedition Unknown, shared some funny stories and amazing travel tips. For fans of his shows, he is just as funny in person.

Josh Gates

Josh Gates

After his seminar, he sat down for a meet-and-greet. He graciously signed my copy of his book which was a complete delight for me.

Immediately following Josh Gates, was my travel inspiration, the beautiful Samantha Brown. She gave me the inspiration I needed to start solo traveling, instead of sitting home waiting for someone to go with me. If she could do it, then I could do it. This was a bucket-list moment for me.

Meeting my idol, the beautiful Samantha Brown

Meeting my idol, the beautiful Samantha Brown

I owe her for giving me the courage to get out there and a huge thank you for making wonderful luggage products, of which I own several pieces in both yellow and burgundy. In fact, Kevin bought me an early anniversary present specifically for this trip from her luggage line. Her luggage deserves a separate blog post so more to come on that. All I can say is I love everything about Samantha Brown.

After the meet-and-greet Kevin and I headed down to Shoreline Village.

Shoreline Village

Shoreline Village

Lots of cute little shops and restaurants, not to mention a gorgeous view of the Queen Mary. While out on the wharf the weather began to turn so we headed back up to the convention center area for lunch.

Weather turning

Weather turning

We ended up at Famous Dave’s. For those of you who have a Famous Dave’s, I am jealous. Up to this day, I have never liked BBQ sauce. I know, weird. I just have never liked it. I like BBQ when it’s a spice rub, just no sauce. That is until Famous Dave’s. I’m going to have to start buying that stuff online! While in the restaurant, the weather took a turn for the worse. We enjoyed our lunch and relaxed while waiting out the rain. Once it subsided we headed back to the Rodeway Inn to relax before heading to dinner.

Before leaving home, I had purchased a Groupon for the Honduran Kitchen located in Long Beach. Kevin had looked up the public bus route, which we were happy to find out picked up almost in front of our motel and dropped us off a half block from the restaurant. All for $1.25. One thing I love to do when on vacation is take the public transportation offered. You get to sit back and relax for cheap, while immersing yourself into life in that area. Anyway, we got to the Honduran Kitchen easily. If you are new to the restaurant, or Honduran food, they have a dish that is meant to share. It is basically a little of everything for 2 or more people. We were able to try shrimp, chicken, pork and chorizo along with an appetizer, salad, beans and rice. Everything was seasoned perfectly, nothing was hot if you worry about spice, just nice and warm and tasty. As good as the food was, our server, Tony, was the most warm, friendly person. He gave us a little history, explaining everything we were eating and was just a joy to meet. Please, if you are in the Long Beach area, give Honduran Kitchen a try.

All in all, it was a quick weekend but jammed packed full of fun. I learned a lot, had some great food, spent time with my husband and checked off another bucket list item.

Getting Lost Close to Home

My husband and I really enjoy exploring our local area and one of the gems that we found in July 2014, was Cameo Heights Mansion Bed & Breakfast, located in Touchet, Washington.

I booked the Italian suite because of the rich tones of brown and blue and for the spa tub overlooking the beautiful grounds.

Rich browns and blues of the Italian suite

Rich browns and blues of the Italian suite

The room overlooked the pool and surrounding apple orchard.

view from the suite

view from the suite

Cameo Heights offers so much to do, from walks through the orchards to challenging the owner to a game of ping pong in the game room, to enjoying a movie while snuggling with your sweetheart.

we had the movie room all to ourselves

we had the movie room all to ourselves

The best part of the movie room was popping our own popcorn, which is provided along with snacks and soda. When the sun sets there is also a fire pit located by the pool and s’more kits.

snack bar and s'more kits

snack bar and s’more kits

While exploring the house, it was easy to find quiet places to relax.

Tucked away nook for a relaxing game of chess

Tucked away nook for a relaxing game of chess

Upstairs, you can find a wrap around terrace perfect for a picnic. We packed some salami, cheese, crusty bread, pasta salad and fruit to enjoy while the sun set on the surrounding hills of Touchet.

enjoying a picnic while watching the sunset

enjoying a picnic while watching the sunset

Before retiring for the night, Cameo Heights includes an order form for a fresh baked wake up service. You can order coffee, tea, a variety of creamers, fruit juice or hot chocolate. This will be delivered outside of your door in the morning along with a wonderful newsletter and fresh made pastries. This is to tide you over until the 9 am breakfast served in their lovely breakfast room.

fresh pastries, tea and hot chocolate

fresh pastries, tea and hot chocolate

The Italian suite includes a full walk in shower along with a spa tub perfect for a morning soak. They also include a lovely box of local made toiletries.

spa tub overlooking the orchard and pool. Locally made toiletries are included.

spa tub overlooking the orchard and pool. Locally made toiletries are included.

After relaxing in the enormous bathtub, it was time for breakfast which is located in a sunny room overlooking the pool. We were served an artistic fruit cup to start with along with some fresh fruit juice.

artistic fruit cup

artistic fruit cup

The breakfast menu had three entree choices. My husband chose the Southwest Stack, made with homemade corn tortillas, chorizo pork sausage, grilled local Walla Walla sweet onions and peppers, garnished with cojita cheese, salsa, sour cream, cilantro and avocado.

Southwest Stack breakfast

Southwest Stack breakfast

I dug into the Tuscan Country breakfast, which consisted of Italian sausage biscuits and gravy with fresh tomato, basil and scrambled egg.

Tuscan Country breakfast

Tuscan Country breakfast

After breakfast, we relaxed by the side of the pool until it was time to checkout, knowing that we would come back again.

For more information on Cameo Heights visit: www.cameoheightsmansion.com

 

Budapest’s Escape Game Phenomenon

My husband Kevin getting ready to enter an escape game - Budapest 2014

My husband Kevin getting ready to enter an escape game – Budapest 2014

Would you pay to be locked up in a room with a timer counting down the minutes, the only escape being to solve puzzles of differing degrees of difficulty?

If you answered yes, then Budapest’s escape game phenomenon could be a highlight of your trip to Hungary.

What feels like a cross between the Amazing Race and any of the CSI series, the escape games have taken over Budapest, allowing teams of 2-6 to test their skills against each other. The clientele is mostly of the tourist variety; however the games also serve as team building opportunities for businesses. What better way to become closer as a team, than to be incarcerated in one or two rooms with no way out other than relying on each other’s skills?

There are over 100 escape games in Budapest, with franchises available around the world. Why did this idea take off in Budapest? The combo of cheap real estate and expensive renovation costs allow for purchase but hinder the cost of fixing up these historical buildings. So young Hungarian entrepreneurs have used the derelict apartments to add ambiance to their games.

For an average of $40 per team, parents, grandparents, tweens, teens, friends, siblings, couples or coworkers, can choose a themed game that lasts an hour. Themes range from Ancient Egypt to Medieval Europe to a room where the goal is to diffuse a bomb before it’s too late.

There is something for everyone, whether you are a self proclaimed tech nerd, history buff, horror lover, or see yourself as the next Sherlock Holmes, you will find an escape game to suit your fancy.

TripAdvisor has ranked escape games first and second consistently, as top Budapest attractions, showing the change in passive traveling to a more active immersive type of travel. People don’t want to only visit museums on their trips anymore. Rather they want to combine history and culture with hands on experiences. Escape games add just the right amount of sensory experiences to keep you talking long after your return home.