Icelandic waterfalls, Geysir and hooray for rain jackets!

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Anyone who knows me knows I hate the cold. I hate snow and winter sports (except for sledding, that counts right?) and trust me, no amount of boozy hot cocoa will convince me to feel otherwise. But when my husband and I decided to make Iceland our next vacation spot, I resigned myself to being cold and wet. We even bought new rain jackets for the occasion, which struck us both as funny since Portland was gearing up for an insane heat wave (it’s been in the 90s since we left). And yet, I’m not sad to be out of the sun. It’s been an amazing trip so far and we fully embraced our Icelandic adventure, spending our third day exploring the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is one of the “must see” Icelandic excursions for a good reason – it includes some of the most awesome natural sights on the island, all within a few hours of each other. Our first stop was at Þingvellir National Park, which was the site of the original Icelandic parliament back in 930. It’s also home to a rift valley, where you can see the division of two tectonic plates, the North American and the Eurasian. The part we were in was so deep it actually created a canyon, which has a pathway winding down to allow for some exploring. Þingvellir National Park, Iceland Continue reading

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Day II on Vashon: Hiking, beaches and a lighthouse

Point Robinson Lighthouse, Maury Island

The view from Point Robinson Lighthouse, Maury Island

Yesterday was our first full day on Vashon Island. Eager to see some island scenery and stretch our legs, we drove a mile down the road to the Island Center Forest. This 363-acre forest has 9 miles of hiking trails, two ponds and is open to bikers, hikers, dogs and horses.

We passed a few other hikers but mostly it was very quiet, and besides getting a little lost we were successful in finding both ponds. Though I’ll say one was definitely more of a marsh than a pond but still, it was a fun trek.

Island Center Forest, Vashon Island

Love how green it is here!

Island Center Forest, Vashon Island

Mukai Pond, Island Center Forest, Vashon Island

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Crossing Bridges for Beers

Walking Man Brewing, Stevenson, WA

A full line-up of hoppy, malty goodness from the Walking Man Brewery.

A few weeks ago it was my husband’s birthday. We didn’t have anything exciting planned so I proposed a beer tour, working our way east from Portland toward the Columbia River Gorge. (So, yes, if you’re keeping score, I chose my favorite activity for my husband’s birthday and then made him drive so I could imbibe the lion’s share of beer. I know, I know, I am a terrible wife. But he still loves me, so it’s all good!)

Anyways…Usually when we drive to the gorge, we drive on the Oregon side of the river out of convenience sake. To try something different, I suggested this time we take Highway 14, on the Washington side, instead. It was a surprisingly good choice.

Even though we were headed in the same direction, being on the other side of the river made for a completely different view. In fact there was a moment when I almost felt disloyal to Oregon, thinking, “Wow, the Washington side is a much prettier drive!” But then my husband reminded me the reason for that is because we were looking at Oregon from across the river. I felt much better (though a little slow!) after he said that.

At any rate, the scenery was so gorgeous that we pulled over near Cape Horn so I could take some pictures.

The left-hand coast is Washington, across the river is Oregon.

Columbia River Gorge. The left-hand coast is Washington, across the river is Oregon.

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Drinking craft beer in Alaska

Craft Beer in Alaska

Doing what I do best…

When I used to wait tables at my dad’s restaurant in Kodiak, AK I remember serving a lot of beer. Sure, steaks, burgers and fried halibut were popular too but when half of the dining room was full of fishermen, most of my time was spent carrying pitchers of beer.

Fortunately, while work could be hectic, it was fun and, as most of the customers were just happy to be off the boat and had just gotten paid, tips were good. Unfortunately, the beer I was serving was all Coors, Budwiser and MGD — the closest thing to a microbrew I could offer was a pint of Alaskan Amber.

To be fair, almost everyone was happy with anything cold and alcoholic and I doubt anyone in the bar had even heard the term “craft beer” before. It was a different time.

Now, years later, craft beer has not only hit the mainland of Alaska, it’s made its way to Kodiak.

When I was there last month, I was shocked to see how much the beer scene had changed in my old hometown. Bars had more beers — and much better beers! — on tap than I had expected. When I saw Ninkasi’s Total Domination on draft at the bar by the Kodiak airport, I was ecstatic.

Doing his part to encourage this trend, my dad recently decided to add eight more taps to his restaurant’s line-up — bringing the total to 20, which is the most in town. He wanted the new handles to only carry revolving microbrews, mostly seasonal or specialty, or — at the very least — from Alaska. Since neither he nor my little brother are big beer drinkers, they thought they would utilize my (ahem) beer expertise to help gauge quality.

And so began a bit of a craft beer bender, which to me is the best way to spend a vacation.

Here are some pictures of our adventures, starting with Kodiak Island Brewing Company:

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What you’ll find at the end of the road in Kodiak, Alaska

You can actually drive to the end of several roads in Kodiak, Alaska

You can actually drive to the end of several roads in Kodiak, Alaska

In college there was a moment when I turned to a few of my friends and asked if they wanted to go out the road that weekend. I was met with blank stares and utter confusion.

That’s when I realized “going out the road” was phrase only understood in certain places. For me, that place was my hometown, Kodiak, Alaska. Going out the road is the equivalent of going for a drive but the difference is how limited your drive is. We only have so much road in Kodiak so “going out the road” is fairly specific.

If you start in downtown, you can drive about 20 minutes north toward Ft. Abercrombie and then on to the end of that road to Monashka Beach, which is about another 15 minutes away. Monashka, or White Sands as we locals call it, was a favorite place for pallet parties when I was in high school. Ah, Alaska.

One super cool thing about this drive is you can see the “John Wayne.” I didn’t get a picture of it on this trip as the brush has grown over it, but usually you can spot this local treasure which has been painted on the rock wall as you drive out to Monashka. I think the drawing has been there for around 20 years, maybe longer.

You can also go the other direction “out the road” which after about 20 minutes or so will lead you to an intersection, or the Kodiak crossroads as I like to think of it.

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An iconic sight: Kodiak’s Russian Orthodox Church

Kodiak, AK Russian Orthodox Church

Just like Ft. Abercrombie and Pillar Mountain, there are a few other places on Kodiak that cling in my mind from childhood. Anything I knew about the Holy Resurrection Orthodox Cathedral — or the Russian Church as I’ve always known it — I’ve long since forgotten. I’m terrible about those kinds of details. But I can tell you it was originally built in 1794 by a mission of Russian Orthodox monks and is supposed to be the oldest Orthodox parish in North America.

If you’re interested you can click here for a bit more information on the church and St. Herman of Alaska. This seminary is in his name:

St. Herman Seminary

St. Herman Seminary


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