I’m led through the imperial city of Fes by a pair of shrouded figures. We dance through the shadows of mud brick passageways and into the medina in time for the Asr call to prayer.
With Portland’s philosophical temperament, insane amount of breweries (something like 71) , and solid, mellow vibes it’s hard to break away from the inner city. Yet, when you manage to, the surrounding areas contain an abundance of natural beauty. Moving away from the bells and whistles of city life, the call of the wild echoes from the mountain tops into the heart of PDX, emerging from the cobblestone streets as a powerful guide, taking you off the pavement and into the wild itself.
In no particular order, I present to you the wild, the ever inspiring, somewhat touristic sights of PDX
There’s an influential air of tranquility in the 5.5 acre park where stones mingle with plants and water to create a sense of harmony, balance between worlds. Said to be the most authentic Japanese garden outside of the motherland, the park is separated into five equally important sections displaying traditional flora alongside indigenous plants for a solid assimilation of nature.
Apparently, this Pagoda came as a gift from the Mayor of Sapporo (Portland’s sister city in Japan) in 1963. There are actually several relics on site. Treasures from Japan, only adding to the holistic beauty.
I was under the impression that these “shishi odoshi” were used to keep track of time or perhaps for meditation… Nope! This bamboo fountain is truly used to keep birds and other animals away that may otherwise snack on the bounty of plants in the garden. However, like magic, it certainly moves ones bladder!
As the tallest waterfall in the state of Oregon this site has become somewhat of a roadside spectacle. Easily accessible and equipped with it’s very own on-site lodge, Multnomah makes for a great pit stop after visiting the Wahkeena Falls. There’s even a great trail which loops up and around Wahkeena, then back down passing Multnomah.
The upper fall at 542 feet is not the source of the ray beam that white washed this photo to near dust…
While the lesser of our two falls, I find Wahkeena more striking. More gradual, the site less trafficked, and the immediate hiking trail, gorgeous.
At this vantage point, by the water, it felt at least 10 degrees cooler in the already chill Oregonian fall.
Peeking over the Columbia River
With something like 70 miles of hiking trails, Forest Park is obviously competing with the breweries in town in an all out mile vs. brewpub showdown. The trails in here contain a striking dose of deep backwoods remoteness. Enough to satiate most appetites. There’s even a movement in the works that will connect a portion of the park to the Pacific Crest Trail. So, Forest Park will technically be part of a 2,600 mile range of trails…
As you ascend higher, Forest Park begins to fan out. Tree growth becomes more sparse, while ferns dominate the grounds which are far less moist than in the deeper ravines.
The further you hike, the less noise pollution, the less passerby’s. All that despite the fact that we’re maybe a mile from the city center, well, as the crow flies.
Nude beaches, vegetable gardens, and geese hunting. The common denominator? Sauvie Island.
Larger than Manhattan and certainly more sustainable, Sauvie is one of those great escapes that transport you to another time. Farmers markets, pumpkin patches in the fall, U-pick farms, quiet dirt roads, and all surrounded by the calming Columbia River just 10 miles west of PDX.
We found our way to the island for a picnic. Equipped with a bottle of Kansas City’s finest brew and a pack of nuts, we had an exceptional, minimalistic, beach experience.
Always working, even on vacation. I had to throw down a little Arabic.
Ok, i’m clearly a grease-pit who had too much to drink. Jaclyn, however, is charming as ever completing our yin-yang look
The List Goes On…
This is only a sample of the more accessible sights. The list really goes on and on… Mount Hood, the Pacific Coast, Willamette Valley (post coming on my vineyard experiences soon).
As with the eats of PDX, I’m already planning for the sights of my next trip.
So, what do you think? Did I miss anything truly special?
I’ve met some great people through this blog, twitter and other social media outlets. One person in particular stands out as someone whom I feel especially lucky to have met, the talented creator behind For The Intolerants, JoAnna.
JoAnna and I have a lot of similar interests, as do many travel bloggers; exploring exotic lands, sampling global cuisine, merging into bizarro cultures, but ultimately we share a unique idiosyncrasy, a sort of fervor for the Middle East.
A keystone in my mission being to deflate nasty stereotypes revolving around the Arab world, I found it fitting when JoAnna approached me to write a guest post and mentioned the same enthusiasm to shed light on a more authentic and positive Middle East.
Since some of you may not have had the chance to read the post when it premiered on For The Intolerants I am reposting it here for your reading pleasure.
These are my reminiscings on Aqaba, the jewel of the Red Sea, neatly fitted between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel…
Uncovering the Shores of Aqaba
Working on an archaeological dig in Jordan, I found myself fleeing to Aqaba every weekend. Not only to dive into the cool waters of the Red Sea, but to merge into a city that borders modernity while retaining the flair of time-tested traditions. I would leave only to feel the call of al-Aqabah time and time again with the desire to explore more the following weekend. Exotic markets and exquisite cafes line the beach.
Just off the local bus I would work my way to the beach, grabbing a coffee from one of the various food carts along the main strip. It’s easy to get caught up in the relaxed culture as the locals have perfected hospitality. After running into the same group of Jordanians it wasn’t long before I was welcome in their ritual, grilling kebabs, smoking hookah, and playing on the beach late into the night, often until sunrise! Luxury resorts with private beaches are stamped across the shoreline just south of the city. This is where I would head for scuba diving, the Aqaba Marine Center, and a little pampering. Yet, I had a preference for the city beach in Aqaba proper. Where glass-bottom boats, camels, and a plethora of vendors to vie for your attention.
Within the city limits are two shopping districts to get lost in for hours. A bazaar with merchants selling anything from Arabian antiques to vintage cameras. And the garment district, where you can be fitted for any number of Arabian garments. I took the opportunity to buy a “thobe” or ankle-length tunic. In fact, my last trip through the city I roamed the town wearing my thobe and headscarf without turning a head! With a light heart and a little humor I shopped through the stretches of textiles, toying with locally mined silver, and haggling my way through teapots and Middle Eastern goods.
Across the city taxis call out- “Where you go?”, “Ah, my friend! Good price for you!”, all of which seem in good spirit, yet I became intolerant of their game early on. Due to their exorbitant fares, unreliable meters, and shady antics I utilized the local bus. Though admittedly, they’re less than comfortable and on several occasions I found myself waiting on a ride that would two hours late. As relaxed as I felt roaming Aqaba, travel by taxi or bus can be stressful. Whatever the case, due to Jordan’s size, getting around the country is a breeze. Once you figure out what mode of transport you can tolerate, a few hours in any direction will lead you to some of the world’s greatest wonders.
In retrospect, I find Aqaba to be an integral destination for the true Arabian experience. It’s clear why most of the region flocks to the port city every weekend. Treasure hunting through the souks will entice some while the beach calls to others. Either adventure is worth experiencing in Aqaba, where hospitality is second nature to the local people steeped in Islamic faith. Where modern architecture is juxtaposed against ancient mud-brick dwellings, the 21st century is emerging and they welcome it with a grin.
Landing on “best of” lists every day across the globe Portland, despite it’s relatively small population, has created it’s very own, unconventional, holistic brand of society. A fusing of localism and sustainability placing PDX as the greenest city in the U.S.
For me, PDX has just recently stepped out of the colossal shadow of Seattle. It wasn’t until Jaclyn’s sister and brother-in-law moved to Portland that my interest in the Pacific Northwest was even stirred, what the hell was wrong with me you might ask? IDK… IDK… But I can say that it wasn’t long before I fell in love with the “City of Roses” through the countless blogs I read. And when we received the invite to visit I sharpied out the dates in my calendar with fervor.
Though we had several months to prepare I took the hands off approach, knowing that our hosts would also act as our guides. So we dove in seeking the greatest in local eats, swanky bars, and boutique shops.
Sure, pizza may have become the most common food on this planet but I can’t camouflage my excitement for these most ancient pies.
Further more, when a pizzeria has the guts to pair a fatty “Meat Lover’s” style pizza next to the vegan “New Maps Out of Hell”, loaded with cashew spread and hash browns, credit is due. The ancients of Gaeta (the first example of what we know as pizza came from this Italian city in the early Middle Ages) have nothing on Sizzle Pie.
A noteworthy collection of tunes rest in the juke box waiting to be paired with a local beer and one of these unorthodox pies. Gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, full meat carnage, they’ve gone wild with their imaginations.
In the words of Sizzle Pie, “Death to False Pizza”
When you visit a city known for its foodie movement and eat at the same restaurant twice during the same stay you’re either A) a closet case unwilling to branch out, or B) you’ve stumbled upon Fireside. It’s primitive, romantic and hip but not trendy.
Their environment and menu is “outdoor inspired” and in the open air restaurant, seated by one of the various fire pits, chowing on dishes like “brick chicken” or “fireside elk chili” you begin to feel it too, the call of the wild.
The menu runs the gamut with fried chickpeas , carrot and beat chips with harissa, an expertly crafted cheese plate and (my personal favorite) a farro salad topped with pickled onions, goat gouda, and a damn fried duck egg. YES.
Distracted by a sweet list of libations, including local wines and experimental cocktails, I completely missed dessert!
Ok, so I didn’t get the chance to hit up any of the food carts. Despite Portland having 300+ mobile kitchens it simply didn’t work out. Yet, I had the experience of waiting in a line that wound from the cash register (indoors) out the building and around the block, a 30 minute endeavor which paid off with the absolute best tacos I’ve had outside of Mexico.
While in line a waitress takes your drink order, go for the Horchata Borracha (i.e. “rum-chata”). Grab one of these or another of their experimental margaritas and that line won’t feel so long after all.
The establishment itself (talking the Mississippi Street location) has a cozy intimate feel. A modern shack with a festive West Mexico Pacifico vibe.
Appetizers include spicy cucumbers and ceviche. Should I even bother mentioning their ethical drive to use local line-caught fish or the fact that they used repurposed materials in the remodeling of their cookhouse? That’s Portland for you.
The centerpiece of their menu would have to be the exceptional taco list. It takes balls to throw wild caught squid on a taco and top it with peppers, salsa roja, and fresh crema mexicana but they do it and do it well. Hands down most delicious taco I’ve come across to date! A close second being their camarones (shrimp) taco, spiced up with a little cabbage, pineapple and salsa verde.
The presentation alone is enough to fill ones appetite.
And, to rub it in your face, what should be an award-winning salsa bar.
A “Farm-to-cone” ice cream shop with, you know, the typical flavors such as arbequina olive oil and the usual mint and sea urchin meringues.
This divine creamery is equipped with an arsenal delicacies which includes sea urchin, loaded baked potato, balsamic, blue cheese, honey… the list goes on.
Cones, coffees, and teas come in all sorts and pairings with speciality items rotating along with the seasons.
Of all the options, olive oil held its own against their gathering of flavors. The sea urchin with mint, left us refreshed with the beloved sweet/salty combination. Honey lavender has become a solid standard of mine, which I’m happy to see more frequently.
If you’re in a hurry they also offer cartons to go, in which case, they’ll allow you to bypass the monstrous line you’ll probably be stuck in..
Of all the cafes we visited The Clearing stood out as the most inviting/scrumptious with a menu offering everything from breakfast burritos to fresh pastries and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Combine that with a killer list of holistic smoothies and you’re feeling good. The beauty is in their simplicity. They’re not curling their mustaches, taking scientific measurements to make a cup of joe. No, they’re crafting unbelievable pastries and damn good light fare.
With a running service of over 100 years they’ve survived prohibition, the Great Depression and Y2K. Hosting a menu that offers breakfast until 3:00pm, this gastropub will satisfy any appetite at any hour. Check out the craft cocktails, local-seasonal bites, and the best Bloody Mary i’ve downed.
I could just let the name speak for itself, then again, it’s so much more. Named one of the top 55 Bourbon bars in America, The Pope House offers an always changing collection of bourbons, whiskeys, and other spirits.
Check out their “Bourbon Derby”. Participants take off in a quest to sample 50 of their prized bourbons, at which time they’re awarded with a trophy along with other prizes. The bar has a cozy old-world vibe that’s just right for a night-cap.
Portland offers a lifetime of dining options, which I’m currently filtering through now, ready to return to raid the food carts, the bourbon bars, and creameries.
I’d love to get some feedback on your experiences in Portland, or anywhere else in this vast world you’ve come across some noteworthy eats. Be it Cairo, Austin, or Rome, Georgia, I’m always looking for a little inspiration to hit the road!
If you’re reading this, it means i’m currently on the road.
Somewhere, out there, rummaging through the idiosyncrasies of our world to bring back and share with you.
This week, it’s a road trip to the city of High Point, NC where i’m following Jaclyn to the furniture market. While her mission is that of business, mine is to explore a region unfamiliar to me. To sample the local eats, camp among black bears under a blaze of autumnal colors in Appalachia, and get to know my fellow Americans to the East.
Until next time,
On the road again. Headed to the furniture market in North Carolina by way of the cloud forests on the Appalachian Trail.
For several months the hookah served as an icebreaker as I worked my way around the Middle East. Embracing the culture, I learned to appreciate the traditions and social norms attached to this symbol of community.
While the beginnings of this exotic device are unclear, several sources from the 16th century mention a “water pipe” being used in Persia and India. I assume the new pastime caught on quickly considering the popular hookah bars and countless smokers you come across anywhere in the region. I’d see whole families park their car, break out their hookah, sometimes alongside a portable grill, and whip up a kebab while smoking away, right on the side of the road. How damn cool is that!
In the States we have a habit to associate ALL smoking devices with marijuana or some paraphernalia. To tack taboo on the alien. It’s a shame as the hookah serves, more than anything else, as a way for people to congregate in a respectable setting, over civil discourse and a glass of tea, a game of backgammon or simply to gossip. I try to liken the experience to going out for a drink, but that usually leads to drunken debauchery… at least in my case (not really)… Moving forward!
In the image below we have the deconstructed skeletal remains of one hookah. On the left you see the hose. This specimen was a gift I collected in Jordan, Bedouin in style of red velvet and gold ornamentation. On the right side we have the stem, which consists of an air valve, a port for the hose and at the top, a tray for ash and the port for the bowl, which you see at the bottom of the image where the “sheesha” or tobacco is placed. Finally we have the vase, basically a reservoir for water in which the smoke, after passing through the stem, bubbles through the water and passes to the hose.
Aside from the body all that’s needed for a good time… is a piece of charcoal and a dollop of molasses soaked tobacco.
I’m not terribly familiar with the various heat sources you can apply as charcoal has always been available to me. Apparently there are other materials you can use which produce a carbon free smoke and cut out any toxins, such as coconut based coal.
Widely known as sheesha or “mu’assel” in Arabic, the tobacco used in smoking hookah is a product of sweet alchemy. Two vastly unique ingredients coming together in perfect unison. Dried tobacco forms the base ingredient which is flavored with a small amount of dried herbs or fruit. The mixture is then covered in honey or molasses before being macerated with a low amount of glycerol to maintain the needed moisture.
“Nakhla” seems to be the preferred brand of sheesha, smoked across the globe. Translating to “Palm”, they supply an army of 50+ flavors. Here I’m sticking with the old standby “Double Apple”.
The bowl, sitting snug atop the stem, is packed with sheesha then covered in foil, which acts as a medium between the wet tobacco and the hot coal.
With a setup like this a typical “session” can run about an hour. In 60 minutes traditions and language barriers become a thing of the past.
Not ready to give up my new pastime i’ve been seeking out hookah bars across Kansas City, finding authentic experiences here and unsavory there. I’m happy with the trend thats caught fire as Middle Eastern cafes pop up and the hookah emerges from the East.
If you’re ever in the area I highly recommend paying a visit to these flagships of sheesha culture in the States.
Aladdin Cafe- Exquisite Mediterranean fare and hookah on demand
Hookah Haven- Open late into the night H.Haven serves as more of a club. A lounge for watching the game over hookah, rather than the typical PBR.
Istanbul, Turkey- My 22nd birthday. Breezing through a lemon/mint concoction. Here you see me with the self proclaimed “Hookah King”.
Aqaba, Jordan- This has to be one of my favorite pictures from the Middle East. On a beach in Aqaba I befriended a gang of hookah enthusiasts who, after passing the initiation, let me join them in the rounds.
As you see below, not much has changed!
Whether in NYC or Istanbul, I would love to hear about your experiences smoking sheesha!