Nov 172012

We landed in Portland last night, grabbed a room and slept through the anticipation of what awaited us in the morning. After breakfast at Kenny & Zukes Deli, it was time to worship at the shrine of books – Powell’s. Now with a new book each and a box being sent home by the helpful folks at Powell’s, Caroline has another stop that has become a de rigeuer mandate: visit a local yarn store. This one is called KnitPurl and is one of the few places to find Loft yarns – she chooses four skeins, I take three that suggest they’d make for a nice new cap. Another stop for some food and gear and finally we are driving south, aiming for the Oregon coast. For 70 miles we slog down the freeway, not our favorite thing to do on vacation, but an occasional necessary evil. At exit 228 we are turning off in the direction of Newport – on the ocean. Four hours later we arrive in Port Orford.

South of Newport, Oregon on the coast

On the Oregon coast we find a gray and dreary day, but don’t confuse dreary with dreadful. These solemn quiet days are a welcome respite from our sun-everyday existence in the desert. While muted tones make for less than perfectly dynamic travel photos, they give us reason to snuggle into warm clothes and enjoy some solitude.

Golden sunset on still inlet near the Oregon Coast

I’ve said it before and would hope it needn’t be said again, but I suppose I must: it seems a day doesn’t go by that the sun doesn’t part the sky to smile its kindly rays upon our happiness. We swoon in delight at the beauty and take inventory once more of our incredible luck.

Railroad crossing on the Oregon coast

Normally we stop here to walk up the railroad tracks to a rock feature in the water that has appeared before on my blog, but today the crossing itself is the center of attention. Oh how I love these pleasant little surprises.

Sand dunes and ocean at sunset in Oregon

The view from Umpqua Lighthouse State Park overlooking the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. We’re still driving south and can’t help but pull over to take in some of our favorite views.

Rainbow on the Oregon coast in late fall

Not quite all the way from our perspective, but certainly double rainbow.

Bridge in the distance on the Oregon coast

Hoping that we’d arrived with plenty of time, we race down to the fishing dock and find the restaurant we wanted to eat at will be open to 8:00 pm. Great, back into the car and hurry the six miles we still need to travel in order to check into our campsite at Humbug Mountain. It’s dark, but it’s not raining! With our tent set up and sleeping bags tossed in, it’s once again time to jump back into the car, but this will be the last rushing around on this trip.

Griff's On The Dock - restaurant in Port Orford

Here we are at Griff’s On The Dock. For years we’ve wanted to eat here, but have never managed to arrive during business hours. It’s not that we know anything special about the place, it’s just a matter of being in love with the location and the building. Many a time Caroline and I have sat on this dock and watched the ocean churn with the most ferocious waves and hammering winds. We can sit in the car next to the stone wall dry and cozy, armed with hot coffee,  and stare out at the sea forever, and have done just that. Tonight though, little is to be seen under the dark overcast sky and anyway, our stomachs are yearning to be fed.

Dinner starts with a bowl of steamers before moving onto the ling cod special. After yumming over that, we got yummier with a shared slice of marionberry pie served a’la mode. As we are finishing, the last customer for the night comes in. Interested in what we might recommend, we suggest he try the special. Stating he’s a fisherman and is looking for something yummy, we offer our assurance that this is indeed a good choice. Turns out he was up from Los Angeles and hoping to get some serious fishing in before the worst of the anticipated storm sets in. The talk continues with gusto as we learn he fishes out of Yakutat, Alaska – the same place we exited our summer rafting trip of the Alsek River. Small world.

May 292011

Caroline Wise enjoying breakfast at Zabies Cafe in Santa Monica, California

Los Angeles is one of those places where you can feel like you have a purposeful life as a part of the city, that your existence is intertwined with the culture that surrounds you – as opposed to a city where you simply exist as an element within the hive. This was our first visit to Zabie’s Neighborhood Cafe in Santa Monica and the owners welcomed us as though we were familiar regulars coming in as we would on any other Sunday, you won’t find that in Phoenix very often. Caroline and I both ordered the Whole Grain Pancakes but couldn’t choose if we wanted blueberry, strawberry, or banana, so we asked for all three and that is what we got. Breakfast at Zabie’s was perfect, starting us off on the right track to enjoy our Sunday.

On the south side of the pier at Santa Monica beach

It was still too early to do much in L.A. – even in go-go Los Angeles. So there was but one thing to do, head on over to the beach for an early morning walk in the sand and surf. In a few hours as the day warms up, this beach like most others along the southern California coast, will fill up with worshippers of the sun. My preference is for a quiet walk on an uncongested strand where for a moment, the beach is an idyllic island setting, and it is all mine to enjoy.

A stop sign with a sticker attached below the word stop, it reads, "Eating Animals"

Free parking is not always easy to find in L.A., as a matter of fact, just around the corner from this stop sign that asks us to "Stop Eating Animals" , we saw our first parking meter that allows the use of a debit or credit card in addition to coins. We kept on driving into the neighborhood and found an empty parking spot free of charge. Approaching this stop sign we saw a placard outside a small duplex advertising a two bedroom unit for rent. I called the number to see what they were asking for, $2,400 a month; I choked. We pay less than a third of that in Phoenix – one of the main reasons we put up with our desert town.

Inside the Craft and Folk Art Museum on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles, California to see an exhibit by Jennifer Angus titled: All Creatures Great and Small

Years, it took years for Caroline and I to finally make the time to visit the Craft and Folk Art Museum on Wilshire Blvd across the street from the La Brea Tarpits. Every time we drove past this small museum, one or the other of us would sound off the reminder that one of these days, we need to stop in. Today was that day. On the second floor is where the exhibits begin, the museum typically hosts two artists or themes. For three and a half months, the second floor would be dedicated a bug art exhibit by Jennifer Angus, titled: All Creatures Great and Small. When you walk in to the main space, you don’t immediately recognize what you are looking at, it doesn’t even look all that striking from a distance. Then as you approach and start to see the detail of what makes up the exhibit, you are struck. You are looking at insects. Brightly colored and arranged in patterns or made up in scenes within the cases, filling in for what might  normally be figures in a dollhouse. Extraordinary and fun.

The artist occupying the third floor was Ann Weber, her exhibit was titled: Love and Other Audacities. Ann weaves together large sculptures created from found cardboard. We should have started up here as her work is really nice, but being overwhelmed from the exhibit a floor below, it was hard to change channels from shock and amazement to interest and subtlety.

Wurstkuche in downtown Los Angeles, California - a hot place for an exotic sausage

Time for lunch on our unfolding perfect day. I had read about Wurstküche on some blog some time ago. They have become somewhat famous and very busy. The line was longer before I snapped the photo, then it snakes through the lobby before you arrive at the cash register and place your order. We split three sausages, the Mango Jalapeno with chicken and turkey, the Rattlesnake & Rabbit with jalapeno – this is one of their signature sausages and it was yummy. The one sausage we didn’t really enjoy was the Vegetarian Mexican Chipotle, it was too spicy, and we love spicy, but there has to be other outstanding characteristic flavors besides just hot – this sausage didn’t cut the mustard. We also split an order of Belgian fries glazed in white truffle oil with two dipping sauces, the first was Bleu Cheese Walnut and Bacon, the other was Chipotle Aioli. Caroline topped off her lunch with a rare find, a bottle of Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier from Bamberg, Germany – a smoked beer.

The 2nd Street Tunnel in downtown Los Angeles, California - made famous by a scene in Blade Runner

Over to 2nd street for a drive through one of our favorite landmarks in L.A. – the 2nd Street Tunnel. If you don’t remember this sight, think Blade Runner, Terminator, and recently the movie Transformers. We have on previous visits taken a moment to go over to Union Station, another location used in Blade Runner. One of these days we’ll visit the Bradbury Building where many of Blade Runner’s interior shots featuring J.F. Sebastian’s apartment were filmed.

A Royal Paulownia in bloom street side in Los Angeles, California

When you live in a desert, splashes of unexpected colors can be startling. We were meandering through the downtown area as we were not in a hurry to get to our next location. Along the way, we came across a bunch of Royal Paulownia trees in bloom – WOW. Our destination was Mitsuwa Marketplace at the corners of Centinela Ave and Venice Blvd. There is a Japanese grocery that also features four or five small restaurants around an open court, a Japanese bookstore is near the entrance. We stopped here Saturday night with the hope of eating at Santouka Ramen, a highly rated and super popular ramen shop, but we arrived shortly before they were closing. As we just had lunch and weren’t hungry, we wouldn’t be eating at Santouka today either, we were going back for Caroline to check the bookstore for their collection of Japanese craft books.

We had come back out towards Santa Monica and West L.A. because we had reservations for eighth row center at 4:00 p.m. at The Landmark Theatre on Pico Blvd for a showing of The Tree of Life. This and the Burmese food were the main reasons for our weekend trip to southern California. I was nearly certain that The Tree of Life would not play in Phoenix, or if it did, it might play to near empty theatres for a week and be gone. As it turned out, The Tree of Life would end up playing in Phoenix for almost two months – who knew? Yes, it was worth it, driving to L.A. for a movie – we loved it.

Green Leaves Vegan Vegetarian Restaurant on Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood, California

After the movie we took a drive through Hollywood. By 8:30 p.m. we were getting hungry again but with so many choices of small funky little restaurants, it is hard to choose one. We had considered Korean in the Koreatown district but kept on driving looking for something really different. Then at 8:58 p.m. on a Sunday night we spot this place called Green Leaves Vegan Vegetarian Restaurant

on Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood. Drats, it’s 8:58, they’ll never seat us, but we’ll try anyway. Hey, no problem, come on in have a seat – we are open until 12:00 a.m. Big frowns ensue for the city we live in, is anything open past 9:00 p.m. on nearly any day of the week in Phoenix? I’ve stated this before on my blog, I am not vegetarian, Caroline is, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying something different, and for most of the country, vegan and vegetarian is as exotic as finding cuisine of central Africa. This place rocks, we split the Cha Cha Pumpkin – worth coming back for. The other dish is lost to forgotten memories, but it must have been good too, because we both want to go back.

Now this was a perfect day.

May 282011

Yoma Myanmar-Thai Restaurant on 713 E. Garvey Ave Monterey Park, California

Up early in Phoenix, Arizona for a 380 mile drive to Yoma Myanmar-Thai Restaurant in Monterey Park, California. Our first stop in California was just across the street at Shwe Minthamee where we picked up some desperately needed Burmese ingredients for making salads that we fell in love with back when Little Rangoon was open in Scottsdale. Now well stocked, it was time for lunch. First up we split a laphet thote. Laphet is the most famous salad ingredient in Burma (now Myanmar), it is pickled (fermented) green tea leaves. When these tea leaves are mixed with shredded cabbage, tomato, egg, and a mix of crunchy bits – including peanuts, roasted garlic, sesame seeds, roasted yellow peas, we have the perfect salad – in our book. We had a couple of other items but it was the salad that made our drive worth while. For dessert we visited Beard Papa’s, obviously very popular with L.A.’s Asian population. Beard Papa’s serves up “Fresh’N Natural Cream Puffs”, claimed to be the world’s best.

Shopping in Little Tokyo - downtown Los Angeles, California

Next stop was Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles. This was our first goofing off mini-vacation this year as I had to cancel any pleasure trips in order to focus on writing my book. The first shop and really the only stop we were interested in was the bookstore upstairs in this photo. It is called Kinokuniya and rarely do we leave this place without spending a quick $100. Caroline spent a good hour looking fhrough fiber craft books in Japanese – it is a Japanese bookstore afterall. Afterwards we took our time to walk around Little Tokyo.

Looking at the south-eastern edge of Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, California

Coming out of Phoenix with our drab conformist and generic urban areas, it is always nice to visit a vibrant city center. We are looking at one of the corners of Little Tokyo, also in front of us is L.A. City Hall far in the background. A mile north is China Town and adjacent to that is the Old Barrio of L.A. – where Los Angeles got its start. A few miles west is Korea Town, Little Saigon is over in Orange County, Little India is in Artesia, and Thai Town is over near Hollywood. Throughout the greater Los Angeles area, funky enclaves of culture thrive and give Caroline and I wonderful choices to choose from for entertainment and food compared to strip malls and drug stores on every corner out in the desert we live in. If you are wondering why I can complain about Phoenix while extolling L.A., we would live here in the City of Angels, except the cost of living would probably keep us as slaves to work and a small apartment.

Inside our tiny room at the Wilshire Motel in Los Angeles, California

Time to head west and check into our motel, one of our favorite motels anywhere – The Wilshire Motel. This tiny spot on Wilshire Boulevard on the way to Santa Monica is a cluster of cozy and clean bungalows just a few miles from the beach. The lady who operates the Wilshire always remembers us, even if it has been a couple of years between visits, although I don’t think we’ve ever gone that long between returns.

Caroline Wise walking on the beach in Marina Del Rey, California

With our lodging taken care of, we raced to the ocean and headed south through Venice to Marina Del Rey for a sunset walk on the beach. It was almost too late when we arrived as the sun had just dipped below the horizon, but we still had a short while to walk in the water and enjoy the late day golden glow of the setting sun.

A bowl of steaming hot seaweed and tofu ramen from Ramenya on W. Olympic Blvd in Los Angeles, CA

Heading back towards our motel and about a mile roughly east is another Los Angeles favorite – Ramenya. Since our first visit when the line was outside the door, this small ramen shop has since gotten some serious competition, but we are still loyal and enjoy their variety of ramens on offer. This somewhat unappetizing view (I will not claim to be an exceptional or even mediocre food photographer) is a bowl of seaweed and tofu ramen. I opted for the spicy curry ramen. This ended our perfect day in Los Angeles after waking up at 5:00 in the morning over in Phoenix. It’s amazing what one can do with a little effort to get out and have some fun.

Apr 032011

John Wise and Caroline Engelhardt on the North Sea at Zeebrugge, Belgium

From that old black and white film we had developed, these photos of Caroline and I were taken while walking along the North Sea in Zeebrugge, Belgium – a favorite place of mine in winter. During the summers on the coast of Belgium, the crowds are heavy, the cafes full. But in the winter, the beach is empty, cold, and windy. The cafe’s that stay open year round are almost empty. Black and white photography accurately captures the wintery gray feeling while strolling next to the dark black sea.

Jan 022011

Our tent shrinking from the wind that is pushing it about inside the Nest at Treebones Resort in Big Sur, California

Where to begin? Last night we arrived at the nest with wind gusts of thirty to forty miles per hour. Caroline burrito’ed herself deep into her sleeping bag while I stood an unwanted vigil to the flap flap flap of our tent fly. Whenever I thought it was getting worse and the mad flapping accelerated, a brief respite would momentarily offer an absolute calm. In a quick second where I had just enough time to tell myself that the worst was over, the freight train would plow right back into my ears. Flap flap flap would drum at five six seven beats a second. All I needed was a thirty second pause in the vitriol of the wind’s lament so I might taste sleep. But as soon as the quiet returned, up in the trees a whooshing sound arose to announce the re-approaching roar and another round of flap flap flap. The nest sits about six feet from the edge of a steep cliff side next to two large trees. The rain fly is tied down and secure, it is stretched taught and still the onslaught from the southeast tearing over the ocean three-hundred feet below and racing up the cliffs pounds our temporary cocoon. The flapping becomes a staccato of nylon tent slaps. After a half hour of this, I rest an arm on Caroline and speak her name over the growing noise, during a lull I hear the familiar sound of her sleeping breaths. I let her sleep and I roll over.

There’s a remote likelihood I fell asleep but it was for moments that collectively could not amount to more than ten to fifteen minutes per hour. Around 11:00 pm the pauses in the wind become less frequent, when there was a short break I recognized how accustomed I was becoming to the constant vibrations affecting the nest. I asked Caroline if she was having trouble sleeping but my words fell on ears buffeted by the roar, whoosh, flapping, and howl of a storm that was becoming a gale. With each successive wave of hostility blowing down on us I entertained thoughts of what would the repercussions of the nest falling over be? What if the direction of the wind suddenly changed and was blowing us toward the ocean? Could one of these trees topple and its root system dislodge the foundation of this hopefully firmly cemented nest? Sadly, an engineering study of this structure’s stability wasn’t attached to the frame for quick middle-of-the- night reference. Maybe the nest’s entire superstructure will act as a parasail taking us aloft for a ride from six feet above the cliff side’s crest to sealevel for some midnight surfing on the angry ocean. My mind reels through endless scenarios that the wind is none too shy to help facilitate.

Caroline Wise outside the Nest on a rainy windy day at Treebones Resort in Big Sur, California

I grab my headlamp and start inspecting tie-downs to ensure they are still holding fast. Then a thorough look once or twice over of the fly, looking for signs of ripping. This opens the question of what would be the likely situation if the fly were to rip to shreds exposing the flimsy tent to the full force of the storm. The tent is holding up perfectly, so far. Then the rain starts in earnest at 1:30. It stops after a brief twenty or thirty minutes but as it does the wind takes on a new ferocity. My feet at the south end of the tent are being lifted and slightly bounced around, not enough to startle me but this is curious. The sound is deafening, how does Caroline sleep? The tent that should be a foot from my face starts to make contact slapping me as it is pushed in repeatedly by the wind. I roll over. Great, now the bladder joins the chorus of things keeping me from sleep. The wind bears down with renewed threat, the nest is vibrating like a tuning fork. The woven branches click and make increasingly worrisome noises that play to the imagination that the worst could happen. Once again I inspect the tent and fly for damage certain we are near the shredding point.

Looking south from the Nest at Treebones Resort in Big Sur, California

ROAR, screams the blast of rushing air, we are in a gale. At 2:30 I reach out in earnest and stir Caroline from the depths of her sleeping bag to let her know I have to pee and that I’m having difficulties falling asleep. We agree we can’t open the tent and climb down the ladder into this maelstrom and dig in to try to sleep through this barrage – what else can we do? But now Caroline’s slumbering ignorance of the situation has been destroyed. After another half hour Caroline reaches over and with a near panic sound of urgency in her voice she says, “We need to get of here now” and something about the Three Little Piggies and a Wolf at the fly. As quickly as she voiced her concern a large gust pushes down so hard that our tent momentarily collapses upon our faces and for a second I’m not sure if this is wind or the nest starting to break apart, the tent bounces back up as the wind down throttles. I turned on our little hanging LED lantern agreeing with emphasis that we need to leave now. To be sure there would be no doubt in our resolve the wind pounded down a second time wrapping us with a skin tight layer of tent canvas testing our fear of entanglement with a nylon straight jacket.

We put on what clothes we could, piled up everything else in the center of the tent hoping to leave enough weight that we might still find the tent here in the light of day. Just this side of panic we open the tent and brace ourselves as I start to open the rain fly. Ten wet steps down the ladder with only headlamp lighting the blackness, thoughts that my rain gear will act as a kite are quickly put to rest as I reach terra firma. I need to focus my light on Caroline who will climb down next, she attempts to zip up the tent getting to the point of agitation as the wind whips the flapping materials making finding the zippers difficult. She gets everything closed up and steps over the threshold and down a few steps before zipping shut the fly. We move as quickly as we can away from our cliff side adventure feeling slightly defeated.

Our guest book entry at Treebones Resort in Big Sur, California

Ah, the discomfort of a cramped cold car, yet we bask in the luxury of it. Even here the wind continues to rattle us, but who cares, the heater is on and I’m about to get some sleep. Four hours later we go for breakfast, tell our story, and leave for the long drive back to Phoenix, Arizona. This will quite possibly stand out as one of the greatest New Year’s adventures of our lives having given us great views, unique lodging, thrills a minute, all the beautiful landscape one might dream of, and non-stop fun. Thanks Treebones for a great ride into 2011.