Descend on Bend 2016 – A Festival of VW Vanagons at Hole in the Ground – Part 2

This is part 2 of my writeup for 2016 Descend on Bend at Hole in the Ground, Oregon – Read part 1 here

photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

One of the first things I realized upon getting to Hole in the Ground was that my iPhone wasn’t recognizing my charger. Since I’ve come to use it as my camera and video camera – I didn’t have a backup plan to take pictures. Within two hours of getting there – my battery was dead. This was a bummer – I had a solar charger, a back up battery, and a cigarette lighter charger to keep that from happening…but the problem wasn’t with any of those or the cord – it was with the lightning jack in the phone. Finally on Day 2 Hanane managed to get it to charge, but it never got fully charged again and mostly just sat in the van connected to the cord since walking around with it was killing it. As a result of all of that – I don’t have lots of pictures or videos and so I’m thankful to Kevin and Zelima Dempsey for sharing their photos with us – the photos in this post are theirs.

Photo by Zelima Dempsey
Photo by Zelima Dempsey

The next thing I realized was that there were a lot of 1987 Westphalia Vanagons – and not one of them was the same as another. Infinite variation within a single type. Misefrou is a merlot colored weekender Wolfsburg edition with an add-a-room from Bus Depot, a laminate floor, and custom cabinets from the last owner.Kevin and Zelima’s vanagon (Zesty the Westy) is a silver 1987 Westphalia Full Camper tricked out with LED lights, sweet cargo racks on back, a retractable canopy, and more. Another couple’s 1987 Westy was a shade darker red/purple (cabernet?) than ours and had a bike rack, a rocket storage on top, and a totally different interior. With close to 300 vehicles there – I did not see any two that were identical. And that seems like a pretty good point to segue into the breakdown of VW Vans…

photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

From 1949-1979 – Volkswagen produced the VW Bus in a number of different models – microbus, transporter, Westphalia camper, split window, bay window, 21-window, safari window, 23 window, Kombi, Samba, and the list goes on – 30 years of VW bus variations with mostly Type 1 and Type 2 (pancake) engines. There were also a number of aftermarket conversions that could turn a tin-top into a pop-top camper – one of which the ‘Riviera’ I had on my 71 bus on Kauai. From 1980-1992 – Volkswagen produced the wildly different Vanagon. With more interior room, a squared body, and from mid-1983 a water cooled engine which provided more power, real heat, and eliminated the need to adjust the valves with every oil change. There were tin tops, pop tops, weekender (camper without stove & sink) and from 1985-1992 a four wheel drive model called the Syncro. From 1993-2003 VW produced a completely redesigned van and camper called the Eurovan. While offering some improvements in handling and power, Eurovans lack the clearance and quirky feel of buses and Vanagons – and also have a motor in the front. Since 2003, the Eurovan has not been offered in the US – though a newer model – the T-5 is still produced and sold in Europe. Bus fans have been waiting for more than a decade for VW to introduce a new US model…

photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

In a nutshell – that’s the history of buses, Vanagons, and Eurovans – but the devil is in the details and the details come from individual (and often multiple) owners. Solar panels, gas water heaters, diesel powered heaters, high tops, low profile, Syncro conversions, replaced VW engines with more powerful and reliable Subaru engines, and the mods mods mods keep coming.

photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

And this is a good place to note that it really is a certain kind of person who decides to own, live in, travel in, customize, or just love a VW van. I’d always known this…we wave at each other on the road. There is a little thrill that goes through you when you see another Veedub. This gathering at Hole-in-the-Ground confirmed what I had always known, but never seen in a mass gathering.

photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

Here in Reedsport – it’s rare for me to meet anyone who has been outside of the USA. There is one fisherman with a VW bus he painted green with latex house paint – I spoke with him once and he had the same enthusiasm for his vehicle as he would have had for say a Chevy Cavalier…he never waves when I pass with the Vanagon. He is the exception. The people I met at Hole-in-the-Ground were a completely different type. Andrew, in a yellow bus next to us had lived in Cairo, Kevin had been to Egypt, Watson in the sprinter van had surfed in Morocco – and those were just the three vehicles closest to us. Every person I spoke with had a story, had a thirst to see the world, had adventure written on their soul, and as a result had an openness to different types of people and different ways of life. We met people from Wales, from Germany, from New Zealand, from Canada and saw vehicles that had driven from New York, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, and everywhere – just to spend time with this tribe.

The Raffle photo by Kevin Dempsey
The Raffle photo by Kevin Dempsey

On Saturday – it was cold and rainy – I mean really cold, really rainy, and really windy. And yet, hundreds of people came out to the raffle drawing, brought and shared food at the potluck meal, and stood around the big fire Silver Moon brewing came out and set up a bar on the crater. There was a huge VW bouncy house. Kids were running around freely – if I were to lump the demographics – I would say that the bulk of people were between 32 and 50, mostly white but there were people of all shades and ages and all were equal – though I will say that the Syncro owners might view themselves as just a little more equal (and perhaps rightly so – van speaking that is).

photo by Kevin Dempsey
photo by Kevin Dempsey

The cold and rain drove a lot of people into their vans as night fell. I was fortunate to sit around a small fire with a group of new friends and share adult beverages as the day ended. And here, I feel the need to share something unpleasant about myself – I drank a little too much. I’m not used to such good company nor to drinking as much. All of that is fine, but when a man came to the fire to share and promote his story – I acted like an asshole when he made a comment that I interpreted as racist/white supremacist. Mind you, I think we all have a duty to stand up to racist/homophobic/religiophobic and other forms of hatred and at the time – I thought I was doing just that – but in hindsight- I have to acknowledge that I may have misunderstood him and my reaction was too strong – charged as it was by alcohol. In any event, I’m glad that he decided to be peaceful and moved along and if I misunderstood – I offer my apology here.

In the morning, the rain was pretty light as I broke the add-a-room down. There was no way to dry it before putting it up – and that is probably the biggest issue I have with it – it is large and not easy to dry out or store. We did a little bit of off-roading to get out and waved goodbye to all of our new friends. On the way home, we drove through our first snowstorm since coming to the USA. Missy handled well, kept us warm, and stayed on the road. Sophia was ecstatic at seeing snow. I was ecstatic at having found my tribe.

What You Need To Know Before Booking Your Next Fishing Trip

 

 

When it comes to fishing holidays it doesn’t get much better than the United States. From wahoo, to amberjack, to marlin; the beautiful blue waters are filled to the brim with a diverse array of fantastic species for you to challenge yourself against. Nevertheless, when it comes to booking the vacation of your dreams this is not something you should dive right into. This post provides you with all the information you need prior to booking your fishing holiday.

 

Where in the U.S. should you go fishing?

First, you need to decide whereabouts in the United States you would like to take your trip. There are lots of great fishing areas. This includes the likes of Hawaii, Texas, Wisconsin, and Michigan. However, none of these places come close to the fishing Mecca of Miami. When it comes to fishing, a day out on one of the boats in the Miami area is assured to be full of fun. This is because you get to try your hand at hooking anything from wahoo, to amberjack, to swordfish, to grouper, to kingfish, to skipjack tuna, to marlin. Where else will you find fishing as varied as this? If that wasn’t enough, Miami itself is a stunning city, brimming with a vibrant personality. Accommodation is in its plentiful and there are lots of delicious restaurants too. 

 

What else is there to do while visiting Miami?

Here are some of the other things you can do in Miami while you are on your fishing trip…

 

  • Enjoy the famous and stunning South Beach
  • Head to Vizcaya Museum and Gardens 
  • Check out the New World Center 
  • Check out South Pointe Park 
  • Go on a speedboat tour if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush
  • Visit Monkey Jungle
  • Head to the Venetian Pool
  • Marvel over the mystery of Coral Castle
  • Take a trip to Miami Seaquarium
  • Check out the galleries, showrooms, boutiques, and shops at Design District
  • Visit Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
  • Go on an Art Deco walking tour

 

Choosing the best fishing charter company for your trip

Choosing a company for your fishing excursion is just as important as selecting a destination is. You need to put in the hard work and effort. There are lots of companies offering this service yet you want to benefit from the best boats in Miami, the most experienced crew, and altogether the best day possible. 

 

Read reviews that have been left by previous customers in order to get an honest assessment of the excursions provided. Don’t be afraid to call the company in question either. They will be able to tell you how the day goes from start to finish. 

 

Make sure their service is not limited. Beginners and experienced anglers alike should be able to find something that suits them. You should be able to try your hand at catching all of the fish that were mentioned previously. From the mighty amberjack to the speedy marlin; the company should give you the possibility to catch them all – and the information and advice to enhance your chances of hooking them. This includes regular fishing reports on the company’s website so you know the best time to go fishing in Miami.

 

What fish can you expect to hook whilst enjoying fishing in Miami?

If you read reviews online you will struggle to find a negative one about the diverse fishing experience in the United States. Practically everyone states that they loved their experience in Miami especially. There are, of course, many reasons why this is the case; the glorious weather, the stunning surroundings, and without doubt the species of fish on offer. This is something worth elaborating on further.

 

What type of fish can you try and hook when enjoying your Miami fishing experience? Well, there is everything from wahoo, to marlin, to mutton snapper, to black grouper, to Atlantic sailfish, to yellow-eye snapper. This is great because it means that there is a challenge for everybody; from beginners to the more experienced anglers, from those who prefer fast fish (such as marlin) to those who want to hook a beast (such as kingfish). 

 

If you are really looking for a challenge you won’t be short of options. Tarpon tends to be the highlight of most people’s Miami fishing breaks. However, wahoo and marlin are extremely fast. You have to be super quick if you are to outwit these fish. So, why not give it a go? Try your hand at some of the fastest and most intelligent fish in the world against one of the most magnificent backdrops you will ever lay your eyes on.

 

When is the best time of the year for snook fishing in Miami? 

If you are looking to experience the best of fishing in Miami you should definitely try your hand at snook fishing. This is a fish that will provide you with a lot of fun and excitement, as they put up an excellent fight. Their violent headshakes will give you a great adrenaline rush!

 

What is snook? Well, this is actually a species that contains a wealth of different types and comes in a selection of colors; from gold, to black, to green. Nevertheless, when enjoying snook fishing, there is a distinct feature that will help you to spot snook. This is a clear lateral line in a distinct black shade that is situated on the side of the fish. In addition to this, snook boast a big lower jaw and two distinct dorsal fins. 

 

Nevertheless, knowing what to look out for is one thing, but when is the best time to enjoy inshore fishing in Miami for snook? All experienced anglers situated in Miami will tell you that snook is usually in warm waters, meaning from spring to early fall is a great time to go fishing for them.

 

A fishing holiday comes highly recommended. However, because of the popularity of this type of vacation, it can be very difficult to find the perfect destination and excursion package. If you use the advice provided in this article you shouldn’t experience any problems.

 

Bandon, Oregon – Gorgeous Undeveloped Pacific Coast

Every once in a while (but not often enough) we head down the coast to the beautiful town of Bandon, Oregon often called Bandon by the Sea.  Founded in 1873 by an Irishman who was reminded of his hometown in Ireland – it is a town of beautiful seascape vistas and lots of cranberries. As usual on the Oregon Coast, there are some antique/vintage shops and a couple of restaurants that are good to fill your belly. There are some fun crab shacks that offer you an actual view of the water- oddly, something that is largely missing from Oregon’s coastline.

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It’s the coastline that really makes Bandon shine. Those rocks out there…they are the stuff of dreams and the empty beaches…well…it’s often cold and windy…not exactly great for sunbathing but pretty good for a walk or contemplation. Bandon has a wildlife game park…which we have not been to. It also has a world famous golf course and a lot of RV parks. The median age of residents is somewhere around 58, the median age of visitors is probably higher.  Of special note is Face Rock Creamery which makes some excellent cheeses and the Stillwagon Distillery which offers a tasting room in Bandon.  Both are worth a visit.

bandon bandonlighthouse

Alternative New York City: What to see when you’ve been there before

NeNYC photo by Kaysha via CC Licensew York City is packed with world-famous attractions; tell someone you’re going there on holiday and they’ll immediately start talking about sites like the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Rockefeller Center. But if, like me, you’ve been before and seen all the most famous attractions, you might be wondering, ‘what’s next?’.

So, I’ve put together a list of of some of the best lesser known places to visit in the Big Apple. And of course, if you’ve stayed here before you’ll also want to make sure you choose different accommodation to last time (preferably in another part of the city, too, for variety) so check out your options.

Socrates Sculpture Park

Where: 32-01 Vernon Boulevard at Broadway, Long Island City, Queens

If there’s ever been proof that a little effort can turn something everyday into something special, Socrates Sculpture Park is it. Back in 1986, artists and activists teamed up to create the park on a landfill site – and it’s still thriving today.

Exhibiting sculptures throughout the year, the park is also very much a community space, hosting a regular market as well as free fitness and relaxation sessions, such as tai chi and yoga.

Roosevelt Island

Where: East River

This little island is part of Manhattan, but has quite a different feel. Something that sets it apart immediately is that you need to hop on the only commuter tram in the metropolis to reach it – a journey that takes around four minutes.

This place is largely residential and it’s great for walking around, but there are a few places you shouldn’t miss, like the Gothic-style lighthouse at its northern end, and Southpoint Park. Head to the edge of the latter and you’ll be able to see the crumbling ruins of the smallpox hospital – a pretty eerie sight.

Paley Center for Media

Where: 25 West 52nd Street

New York’s fairly famous for its museums, many of which focus on high art. So, if you want to see something a bit different, it pays to come to the Paley Center for Media, which is instead dedicated to pop culture – particularly TV, radio and podcasts.

This interesting collection has more than 150,000 clips from various media, while it also regularly hosts talks from industry bods (like influential people behind major TV series). I’d therefore recommend checking out what’ll be on during your visit before deciding when to go.

Merchant’s House Museum

Where: 29 East Fourth Street

Seeing a preserved home in New York City is pretty rare. Actually, it’s so rare that the Merchant’s House Museum is the only 19th-century townhouse in the metropolis that’s been maintained just as it was both inside and out. Inside, you can see original furnishings and personal possessions dating back to 1835.

The Treadwell family lived here during this time, and it’s said that the ghost of Gertrude Treadwell haunts the place – she died alone after her father (reputedly) refused to let her marry her true love.

Hall of Fame for Great Americans

Where: Bronx Community College, 2155 University Avenue, 188 Street, Bronx

The US is home to its fair share of halls of fame these days, but the Hall of Fame for Great Americans is thought to be the original. It dates back to 1900, when it was built to pay tribute to Americans who have influenced the course of the country’s history.

Come here and you can see 98 bronze busts of key figures, including Alexander Graham Bell and Franklin Roosevelt. Plus, the building itself is impressive, being a 630 ft high open-air colonnade. As well as being a striking sight in itself, it’s also got some amazing views across the Harlem River.

 

The Oregon Country Fair

Oregon Country Fair
Oregon Country Fair

Every Summer in the woods outside of the little town of Veneta, Oregon – hordes of hippies, puppeteers, musicians, acrobats, nudists, herbalists, and assorted other oddballs assemble for a spectacular show unlike any other – The Oregon Country Fair. For three days there are concerts, dance, homemade soap vendors, and the heavy smell of patchouli and marijuana in the air. Part Burning Man, part Woodstock, part backwoods Oregon country life – the event brings upwards of 50,000 people making it, by some estimations, Oregon’s 13th largest city for three days each year. The rest of the year, it doesn’t exist except as some trails in the woods.

puppets at Oregon Country Fair
puppets at Oregon Country Fair

The OCF starts on the 2nd Friday of July each year. The fair has been going in the same location since 1970 (back in the 70s it was called the Oregon Renaissance Fair). While bands such as the Grateful Dead have played the OCF, it is more about the community of creative people than the concerts – there are costumes, busking, outdoor demonstrations, and even an Eco Village where energy and environment saving practices are demonstrated and encouraged.  There is a lot of nudity at the fair – though technically, only toplessness is permitted. Much like the marijuana use – it is a part of the fair that is not discouraged while not being encouraged either.

Oregon Country Fair
Oregon Country Fair

To get into the fair, you need tickets and they must be purchased in advance. There are no ticket sales on site to discourage beggars and scalpers. Costumes are encouraged and you can bring your own snacks but part of the fun comes from the many exotic food choices available – everything from Pakistani kebab to gluten free donuts with a wide array in between.

Oregon Country Fair
Oregon Country Fair

We’ve been to the Oregon Country Fair twice – the last time, I admit that I was bothered by the aggressive tip collection by several of the performances we watched…a ticket to the OCF gets you into every performance in the fairgrounds…so the acts are working free or for tips – I’m fine with the tipping, but felt a bit overwhelmed and cornered this last time around…and it may keep me from going again. Time will tell. When you go in, the greeters always say ‘Welcome Home’ and it does feel like home – it’s a welcoming, loving, and nurturing environment for creativity (aggressive tip collectors aside).

Oregon Country Fair
Oregon Country Fair

I’ve been told that the Oregon Country Fair is best when you are one of those performing, vending, or helping to set up or take down the fair. The fair is open to the public only during daylight hours – before it opens and after it closes is when the real community takes place. I can only imagine and hope that maybe one day, I’ll get the chance to experience what the OCF is like ‘backstage’.

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Like Burning Man, it isn’t for everyone – but I do think it is something that everyone should experience at least once.  Tickets for the Oregon Country Fair will go on sale in April…I’ll probably see you at the fair.

 

7 Reasons Why the Oregon Dunes Totally Kick Butt for ATV’s

cc Image courtesy of NZhamster on Flickr

Oregon is one of the most popular destinations for ATV riders in all of North America, and the Oregon Dunes is the primary reason for this popularity. In the following list, we present the seven top reasons why all ATV riders must visit the Oregon Dunes at least once in their lives.

1. Terrain Diversity

The name Oregon Dunes might give you the impression of sandy hills, but there’s a lot more to the Dunes than that. Expansive forests border the sprawling beach, and there are several routes that weave in and out of the water and forest.

2. Height

The Oregon Dunes reach up to 500 feet above sea level, and you can actually ride at this height, which gives you an amazing view of the surrounding area. For the adventurous, riding up and down dunes of this height provide stretches of incredible exhilaration and steep hills that will challenge your skills.

3. 40 Miles

The Dunes stretch for 40 miles, and there is flat terrain available from one end to the other. There is also plenty of open space, so there’s not a great deal of concern over obstructions and other riders. This stretch provides an amazing opportunity to ride your ATV and really open it up.

cc Image courtesy of Pedestrian Saint on Flickr4. Scenery

Not every rider wants challenging rides and breakneck speeds. For those who want to take in nature, the Dunes offer splendid scenery, diverse wildlife, vegetation and the majestic Pacific Ocean.

5. The Oregon Coast

The Oregon Dunes stretches along the Oregon Coast, which is a breathtaking area that boasts numerous activities you can do along your ride. On the sea, you can participate in tours, whale watching, fishing and surfing. On land, you can camp, hike and visit the many museums and landmarks.

6. Accessibility and Affordability

All along the coast are communities where ATVing is a way of life. ATV rentals are affordable and accessible, and plenty of accommodations and other activities are available that cater to the ATV rider. You can even purchase Oregon travel packages built around ATVing at the Dunes.

7. Community

Oregon has a thriving ATV community that includes locals as well as riders from all over North America. Each trip is an opportunity to meet fellow ATV riders and perhaps even build lifelong relationships.

Before Your Ride

Oregon does require riders to pass an Oregon ATV Course and acquire a license before riding on public land designated for ATV traffic. A compatible license from another state or province is a suitable alternative. There is no similar requirement for private land.

The Most Unmissable Things to Do in New York

New YorkTravel is different today than it has ever been. Things are crazy right now with lockdowns, quarantines, and more. One of the hardest hit places in the world is New York City. We, here at Vagobond love New York, and who doesn’t? Our hearts and thoughts are with New York and we just want you to know – we know that you will get through this. We offer you the following with optimism and hope for the future. We know that we will get through this and when we do…travel will come back – different, for sure, but also the same – things will be slow at first and we imagine that people will be staying a little closer to home, not going abroad as much.

New YorkIf you’re travelling a little bit closer to home, New York is one of the most exciting destinations in North America. It’s a huge city with plenty to do and to see. However, there are some activities and places you simply shouldn’t miss.

During the day, New York has a rich selection of sights to see. The Statue of Liberty is iconic, and you can’t leave the city without seeing it. It’s also worth taking time out to visit Central Park (and if you’re with kids it’s a great chance to let them run off some excess energy), or taking the (free!) Staten Island Ferry for an extra bit of sightseeing. And of course, don’t miss the fantastic shopping opportunities New York has to offer right in the centre of the city, including the chance to see the famous Times Square.

In the evening, the one activity you shouldn’t miss out on is the chance to see a Broadway show. Famous around the world for exciting theater, often featuring film stars over from Hollywood, this is the best place to see the latest hit everyone is talking about. There are 41 large professional theatres on Broadway, meaning the choice of shows is wide-ranging and there is something to suit everyone, whether you are a couple, a group of friends, or a family. If you’re struggling to decide, take a look at the infographic below. It will help narrow down options through a fun quiz, and even suggest some shows you might enjoy based on your personality!


Infographic design by: broadway shows

A Visit with Dinosaurs in Prehistoric Gardens – A Highway 101 Roadside Attraction

Dinosaur parkSince 1955, drivers on Highway 101 along the Southern Oregon Coast have been able to walk among the dinosarus (23 if I counted correctly) at the Prehistoric Gardens between Gold Beach and Port Orford, Oregon. Being a road-side-attraction-junkie, I thought it important to bring my family there too.  I assured Hanane and Sophia that the dinosaurs would not eat them (but at times it felt like I lied) and off we tramped into the rain forest (after buying a pretty reasonably priced ticket for each of us – $32 total for the three of us to get some photo ops with the dinosaurs). We were there in the off season, so we were alone with the dinosaurs – if there had been crowds, the price might have seemed a little high…so be warned.

I love roadside attractions, not least because they are relics of a bygone age…back in 1953 you could buy a piece of land, move your family there, and start building concrete dinosaurs and charging the public admission (or build Disneyland for that matter) – today, that would be impossible unless you had a team of lawyers and a billion dollars – so there won’t be any new roadside attractions like this popping up anytime soon (unless society collapses).

But, back to 1953 – that’s exactly what Ernie Nelson did. He was a mill equipment supplier in Eugene who dabbled in sculpture, but he decided instead to bring dinosaurs to life and create a theme park.  Each of the dinosaurs were created by hand and most of them took years..the brachiosaurus (brontosaurus back in the day) is 86 feet long and 46 feet tall!

 

 

Trees of Mystery – A Northern California Coast Roadside Attraction featuring Giant Testicles

I’ve never been one to pass by a roadside attraction – many of them disappoint – but not Trees of Mystery in Klamath, California.

I remember visiting it as a child when my family went camping in the Redwoods – the giant fifty-foot statues of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe made an impression that never went away…so when I got the chance to take my family there – of course I did not demure, even though an ox is generally castrated and Babe has the largest pair of testicles in North America (I’m guessing). There is a control room inside Bunyan that allows an operator to move the head and arm and interact with guests…rumor has it that there is a sign inside that forbids asking women for their phone numbers – probably something that would be a huge temptation for a teenager working a summer job.
Trees of Mystery
Founded in 1931, this historic redwood landmark about 35 miles south of the Oregon border was first conceived as a natural history park, but the addition of the two giant statues turned it firmly into a roadside attraction.The first Paul Bunyan statue was made in Long Beach California and melted in the rain after only a season. and the The second, at a mere 24 feet tall was designed and built by the park’s owner, Ray Thompson and lasted until 1962. It wasn’t until 1951 that Babe the Blue Ox joined Paul and the current 49 foot statue of Bunyan came on the scene in 1962. The statues get you to stop, but there is more to Trees of Mystery.
trees of mystery
Inside the gigantic gift shop, your admission ticket will also get you into their gigantic collection of Native American artifacts. It is one of the largest private ethnographic collections of Native American dress, tools, and art in California. For me, the museum collection was worth the price of admission and the actual attraction itself, the winding trail through the Trees of Mystery (aka impressive very old Redwoods) was a bonus. The last part of the trail has recordings and carvings which recount the many tall tales of America’s most famous lumberjack (Paul Bunyan, in case you don’t know) and his many exploits. Bunyan was a sort of Maui demigod who harnessed forces of nature.
trees of mystery
Finally, don’t pass the Gondola ride through the trees to a glorious view of the Pacific – it’s worth the cost, because seriously, when are you going to do it again? Finally…is Trees of Mystery a tourist trap? Absolutely…and you shouldn’t miss it – at least once in your life…and by the way…the fudge in the gift shop is pretty good too.

Tillamook, Oregon – Cheese Factory, Planes, and a Really Really Big Hangar

tillamookcheeseNo trip up (or down) the Oregon Coast is complete without a stop in Tillamook, Oregon. While we haven’t had the opportunity to do all the fun things Tillamook (the town) offers, we stop every time at the Tillamook Cheese Factory – the tour through is fascinating – even if you know how cheese is made – and the sampling is divine. Trying 8-10 types of cheese where it is made, side by side is fun no matter how many times you do it – but the crowds in summer can be a bit overwhelming. img_2011In other seasons, you can really take your time as you enjoy the cheese. Even better than the cheese (okay, that might be an overstatement) is the Tillamook Creamery where you can get fresh, delicious ice cream in dozens of flavors – straight from the source. Since the Tillamook Cheese Factory has proved to be such a tourist hit – other foodie centers have sprung up – Blue Heron French Cheese Factory, Debbie D’s Sausage Factory, Werner’s Smoked Meats, Pacific Oyster, and some great farmer’s markets. Tillamook is a great foodie destination which also offers a wide variety of outdoor activities from kayaking to mountain biking to fishing and crabbing.

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The cheese factory is interesting and delicious, but the ice cream goes way beyond that.

The Tillamook Air Museum beckons from beside the highway just south of the Cheese Factory.  Situated in a massive hangar called Hangar B which was designed to house blimps during World War II. Hard to imagine but blimps patrolled the whole Pacific Coast back then protecting us from Japanese Submarines…the hangar is massive…you could play seven football games at the same time inside it! It houses a large collection of aircraft ranging from early aircraft to fighters, helicopters, and even a blimp. Inside there is a theatre and a little cafe – but my advice is to get your meal somewhere else. The admission price is worth going once, but beyond that, probably only if you are a real aviation nut.

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Art Not To Miss at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

I originally published this 11 years ago back in January 2009 upon the eve of what I thought was my final departure from the United States. I’m still looking for my shire. It’s not Morocco and it’s not Oahu and probably not the USA – Turkey was wonderful, until suddenly political and religious bullshit ruined it. Who knows where it might be but I wonder if I will ever find it?

 

The Journey’s Reason/ The Quest
Let’s start with the obvious, I leave the United States this afternoon. I have no idea what the future holds. I’m not even sure if I will ever be back here. That’s part of the reason why it’s nice to have been able to visit Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Ogden, Chicago, Boston, Providence, Warwick, New York City and Queens before I leave. In addition, I was able to look at just about everything in between from the windows of the train. It’s an incredibly beautiful country filed with a lot of wonderful people.

New York is a magical place, but unless I somehow become wealthy enough to have a car service, hire taxis every day, and have a beautiful apartment here, it’s just too cold in the winter for me to ever consider calling it home.

Ultimately, that’s what this trip is about. It’s about finding a place to call home so I can dig in, plant some roots, and put my energy into creation. What about Hawaii? Well, Hawaii is great but I like it to be a little cooler than Hawaii (but not as cold as the Northeast), Hawaii is too far from other places, and unfortunately, I saw myself staying in one service job after another if I stayed there. Or becoming an academic and frankly neither option appeals to me.

So that is why I am leaving. It’s a journey, a searching, a quest and I suppose unlike the Lord of the Rings, this quest starts from a magical land and ideally takes me to the Shire. I’m looking for a Shire, not too hot, not too cold, not too far from the world, and connected via the internet.

On Aging

As my friend James pointed out the other day, we are getting older and it is becoming obvious. Of course sometimes it manifests in ways that I don’t expect and I have to admit to not enjoying that at all.

On the upside, I am more in control of my life than I have ever been before. My capacity to make decisions is unsurpassed in my own life experience. I have learned the lessons of this life I’ve lived (hopefully) and I feel like I am cooler, smarter, better looking, and more together than I have ever been. That’s a pretty good upside.

The downside is more subtle. I’ve been having a hard time finding couches to surf since the West Coast. I attributed it to my lack of planning more than anything else, but there is another possibility that I have to consider. I’m 37. It says so on my couch surfing profile. Even though I meet people and they generally think I am in my late 20s to early 30s, I usually find that their behavior towards me changes (if they are younger) when they find out my age. It happened over and over again in college.

The book of the dead and those reflected in it.

The reason for this change and perhaps for this prejudice against people my age on things like couchsurfing.com is probably justified. Let me repeat that, I think it is probably justified. The truth is that for every guy like me (adaptable, smart, fun, and ‘ahem’ fairly normal) who is vagobonding, there are probably 10 weirdos of the same age that are out to exploit, steal, or who are just crazy. Let’s face it, at 37 I’m supposed to be married, in a career, a father, have some money in the bank, and be living a ‘responsible’ life. Either that or there is potentially something wrong with me…or (as in the present case) I am just a very different type of person who hasn’t followed the usual path.

Frankly, I feel like I think I was supposed to feel in my mid to late twenties. And I’m okay with that, actually, I’m really okay with that because I plan on living for a really long time so there is no need to become old prematurely. The problem is that for the past six nights I think I have been put in an ‘old men’s dorm’ at the Chelsea International Hostel. Nearly everyone in my dorm has been the same age or older than me and aside from ungodly snoring, farting, and other loud bodily noises, I’ve noticed that there has usually been something not quite right with these guys. So you see, maybe I’m guilty of the same prejudice. Here’s a funny thought, maybe all the old guys in the room (including yours truly) all are thinking the same thing.

In any event, I’ve become fairly certain that my age is working against me on couchsurfing and now in this hostel at least. Incidentally, aside from price and location, I wouldn’t recommend this hostel. It’s loud from repairs and old pipes, it doesn’t have a comfortable common area, no chairs in the dorms, and it doesn’t provide wi-fi. I think wi-fi and a comfortable place to sit are high on my list of desired traits in hostels.

And that brings me to cafes.
In the age of the laptop, a cafe without wi-fi is like a cafe without coffee. I’ve been staying in Chelsea and for such a hip and cool neighborhood, I have been surprised to find the only coffee shops with comfortable seating to be Starbucks. How much does that suck? At least in Honolulu we had the option of Starbucks or a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and at CB &TL there was free wi-fi if you bought anything. Here, the Starbucks are packed and the wi-fi is a big rip off from AT&T.

I found a handful of places offering wi-fi and out of those the only one that actually worked was here at the Brooklyn Bagel Company. And I have to wonder if the brushed metal seats and marble counters and tables are designed with making asses and elbows cold. I do like this place though. Great bagels with huge gobs of cream cheese, free wi-fi that works, and some interesting art on the walls.

ART
I spent yesterday at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was astounding and wonderful and overwhelming. It is filled with millions of objects d’art from all over the world. There are entire Egyptian Temples, dozens of mummies, giant rooms filled Picasso, entire rooms from famous mansions and when I say entire rooms, I mean the floor, the ceiling, the wainscoting, and everything else. There is a library parlor designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and everything else you can imagine.

The problem with all of that is that I was trying to see it all in a day. I’ve come to the conclusion that I would rather spend long periods contemplating one exquisite piece of art than to be running around manically trying to appreciate so much in so little time. Not that I would change having gone yesterday, I just realize that I missed a lot by seeing so much.

And finally,
Let’s look at the United States.

As I’ve said, I love the land and I love the people, but I think that we, as a country have lost something within my lifetime. I don’t know if it was born of the cynicism of Vietnam or the excesses of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but there is a sort of ugly greed that exists here. The culture here has become very much “The United States of Me” rather than “We the people”. The difference is of course in who is being served and who is taking responsibility.

I decided to do a different perspective of Venus. I don’t think she noticed. Nice, huh?

It’s not a big surprise at this point that we are heading into a fantastic depression. It might be a good time to start reflecting on those famous words of JFK “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” I’ve lost faith that Americans are capable of such selflessness and perhaps I am simply one of the first rats fleeing a ship that I think is sinking.

Obama might be a fantastic change in the right direction though. I hope. We will see. The United States has become such an incredible slut to Israel, multinational corporations, and institutions such as the world bank, the WTO, and the IMF; unfortunately, I don’t see these relationships changing under Obama. I hope I’m wrong.

And then there is the racism. I’m terrified of the possibility that some nutjob racist will kill Obama. Or some foreign government pretending to be a nutjob racist. My mom, a bit of a nutjob herselftold me to focus on survival skills when I should have been focusing on math because she said that someday there would be a huge race war. She wasn’t a white nationalist, she was a freaky christian hippy, with some odd ideas and some leftover 1950’s prejudice. Frankly, I never considered her crazy ideas to have any merit even through Rodney King, Reginald Denny, and the LA Riots, but when I think of Obama getting shot by some redneck, suddenly I can picture LA happening on a nationwide scale…

Okay, not really. I think we are more rational and better than that, but it could certainly cause some problems. And what happens when Hope gets killed? It’s like the Langston Hughes Poem “A Dream Deferred”

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it sag on your back like a heavy load?
Or does it…Explode?

Anyway, I’m leaving. I might be back. I hope Obama can fix everything while I’m gone. Good night and good luck.

Originally posted 1/17/09

Exploring Chicago When It’s COLD!!!

In 2008, I took Amtrak across the USA. It put me in Chicago in December. Not the best time to experience the neighborhoods and things that make Chicago a great American city.
The last bit of time in Chicago was okay. The Sears Tower had zero visibility and I was sort of museum weary after The Institute of Art so I just walked through the streets of downtown taking pictures.

Chicago is cool on it’s own, but the downtown area feels a lot like New York, without being New York. My new friends Chad and Emjoy told me that you can’t really appreciate Chicago unless you get into the neighborhoods and my buddy Erik has told me about some incredible experiences to be had in Chicago but honestly, it was my fault for not scheduling enough time in this great MidWest City and coming in the winter. Of course, one thing to keep in mind – it was COLD. Too cold to enjoy.  I have to reserve judgment on this city in terms of having a great time until I can come and spend more time during a nicer time of the year. Still – Chicago has its wonders.

The Federal Reserve Building in Chicago with a nice reflection of some public art called “Flamingo”

I know this though. The architecture is astounding in the city that gave birth to the skyscraper. The Chicago Institute of Art was mind blowing and I’m told that all the rest of the museums  are too. I believe it.  I found Chicago to be too cold and too fast for my tastes. I know, it was January, but the people seemed cold too. Not nearly as friendly as New Yorkers but maybe I just didn’t understand them.

I spoke with a cab driver who had been driving in Chicago for forty years and he told me that he had never seen business as slow as it currently is. He said that even on New Years, he wasn’t as hectic as he should have been. So, from the ground level, the recession is still being felt. He told me that buses and trains are fuller than ever and his usual customers are saving money on a cab and using public transport instead.

I hunkered down in a Cosi Coffee House and caught up on uploading video and pictures, updating existensis, and answering emails for a few hours while it snowed outside. I looked for something to do online and since I am definitely a movie lover, I decided to go to the Gene Siskel Film Center and catch a movie at 6 before catching my train to Boston at 10.

At that point, I got a call from Erin, the couch surf host I was supposed to have surfed with and I asked her if she wanted to join me for the film. She said yes, so we met up at the theater got some popcorn and a couple of beers and watched a very interesting animated fairy tale called Azur and Asmar.

I admit to being a big fan of fairy tales and since about 1/3 of this one was in Arabic, I enjoyed it all the more. The animation was of the sort that I am not a huge fan of, the sort of computer generated graphics that I really am sort of annoyed by. My Arabic is so rusty that I caught less than 1/3 of what was there, none the less, I did catch some of it. That felt pretty good. I think it will come back pretty quickly. The animation of the set was absolutely astounding. So many geometric patterns and middle eastern motifs. In any event, it was definitely enjoyable even though there was a slight feel of  great white hope to it.

After the movie, Erin walked me to Union Station and we searched for a whole foods I thought was in the area without any luck, so I bought three sandwiches for the 24 hour train trip from Potbelly’s. They were damn good sandwiches.

This was by far the worst train I have taken on this trip so far. The seats were not as comfy as the other train seats, the dining car was filled with drunks, one of whom had to be escorted off the train by police because he became so incredibly drunk that he began cussing at the train attendant and heaping verbal abuse on her. The police came on the train at the next stop and he left with them. In the car I was in there was a Jethro type from Missouri who looked more than a little inbred. He sang loudly to himself and stood at the window saying  “Oh my gawd, there ain’t no traffic like this in Missouri. Eight lanes” and other bumpkin phrases. He asked to borrow several people’s cell phones so he could ‘call his ma’ and tried to make friends with me, but I didn’t care to be his friend. You know how sometimes you just know that someone is awful.

I found a seat I liked and a Russian guy sat behind me and began talking loudly on his cell phone. I moved. Not a friendly bunch.

The highlight of the trip was watching a movie my friend Ark had given me called Survive Style 5+. Great film with one of the best endings I’ve ever encountered. It also gave me a chance to ignore the freakshow around me.

I was exhausted after not enough sleep the night before and walking around freezing Chicago all day, admittedly not in the best mood of my trip. The grey sky, grey buildings, and leafless brown scenery didn’t improve things. The trip to Boston from Chicago was drab and ugly and my mood was the same. When we finally arrived in Boston, I was relieved to see evergreens, warm brick buildings, colorful houses, and people that actually took the time to smile.

These were the highlights for me from the Chicago Art Institute…can you name them? Can you name the artist?














I also I really thought this Native American sculpture of a story teller was spectacular

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland

OMSI Portland OregonWe love spending time in Portland, Oregon. It has a little bit of everything.

Last trip, we spent nearly the entire day at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry – OMSI for short. We went all in for the ultimate explorer package so we got to see a planetarium show, an Imax movie, explore the exhibits, and take a tour of the Blueback submarine.

It made for a full day with the two story outer space explorers exhibit, the gingerbread architecture show, and the regular exhibits plus the extras. For the three of us, the bill including lunch and popcorn came out to right around $100…which was quite a deal. We opted for the Sesame Street planetarium movie – which was safe and fun for Sophia, but probably she could have enjoyed one of the more advanced shows just as much – she’s five but inquisitive and already knew most of what Big Bird and friends taught.

For lunch, we left and grabbed a pizza at the Lucky Labrador Beer Hall , a huge family friendly beer hall with ultra-cheesy delicious pizza and home brewed root beer (plus plenty of adult -beverages and a varied menu and I’ve been told special events on a regular basis) – a super cool, laid back place. Then we went back to Omsi.

OMSI Portland OregonWe watched the Exploring Space IMAX which was a great introduction to the two floors of space related science exhibits and hands on displays. The Blueback tour was interesting if you are interested in military history or life for military submariners but since none of us were – we could have easily skipped that one – the smell of diesel while comforting to me was overwhelming for both Hanane and Sophia and the tour was only mildly interesting for any of us.

OMSI Portland OregonWe were very happy to see a Dr. Who themed Gingerbread house – Tardis actually- and the rest of the space themed structures were equally impressive. Finally, we didn’t spend nearly enough time just playing with the general science areas and hands on experiments – areas in physics, lasers, design, and more. It was a full day and we left feeling like we got much more than our money’s worth.

New York Foodie – The Best Places for Food Shopping in New York City

by Sarah Spigelman exclusive for Vagobond

Murray's Chees Shop

New York isn’t just the best place to eat; it’s one of the best places to shop for food. No need to subscribe to pricey specialty food email lists to obtain the latest in hard-to–source foods.

Stop stockpiling foreign candy that gets you in trouble with customs every time you try to come back from London. And please…let’s say goodbye to big box supermarkets that sell tomatoes that look gorgeous and taste like candle wax.

Here are just a few of Manhattan’s very best food stores, sure to give you everything you need to feast at home.

KalustyanKalustyan’s – this Indian food emporium offers literally anything you will need to make a meal from the subcontinent. There is a wall full of spices so potent that your eyes may tear – but at the same time, your mouth will water. Need paneer, chickpea flour, or kaffir lime? They have it. Or maybe you want a huge bag of Brazil nuts, strained yogurt from Greece, or foreign candy bars. Don’t sweat; they have that here, too. If all else fails, you at least owe it you yourself to try some food at the tiny upstairs café. It might not be fancy, but it is the best Indian food that you can get outside of your Bengali mom’s house.

Eataly—Mario Batali strikes gold again with this humongous Italian emporium. This place isn’t just a supermarket; it is a full-on destination. Along with the piles of exotic mushrooms, Italian dried pastas, and imported fruit like Sicilian blood oranges, you can have cooking lessons or wine classes. There is a European style food hall, with many small restaurants focusing on just one thing – fish, vegetables, pizza, or pasta. Also, stand at counters and try meats, cheese, or wines. Finally, for the ultimate experience, head to Manzo, an acclaimed beef focused restaurant right in the heart of the bustling store.

Zabar’s-come on to the UWS for a little nosh. This is the place where you come for Sunday brunch – for soft, chewy bagels, whipped cream cheese,Zabar's and the gest assortment of smoked fish in the city. Smoked salmon, kippered salmon, smoked trout, whitefish salad, and everything else you can imagine to make a fantastic spread. Also load up on gourmet olives, luscious cheeses, homemade hummus, and artisanal crackers and breads. Don’t underestimate the stuff you can get at Zabar’s –they roast their own chickens; have an extensive prepared food section, and a coffee section that carries the aroma of the best Starbucks in the world.

Esposito's Meats by afagenEsposito’s – this old school butcher shop is what NYC used to be like, before the infusion of big chain grocery stores. Esposito’s is a tiny store in Hell’s Kitchen where anything and everything meat can be yours. Shins, marrow bones, veal breast, and whole baby goat – literally, anything that you want is either in stock or will be ordered for you. The fellas behind the counter couldn’t be more accommodating or helpful –they will tell you how to cook that chicken breast so it is tender and flavorful. Pick up some homemade mozzarella and local Italian bread while you are there and make sandwich fit for a king.

Hmart 1 by @JyonnnnHMart—goodbye, USA, hello Korea. This store, where the windows are papered and the location is in the middle of a harried street, houses an entirely different world. A world of 50 lb. bags of rice and dried squid sold like potato chips. A world of thinly sliced sashimi and an entire freezer case filled with dumplings and potstickers. A world of peach flavored gummies, coffee flavored milk, and instant noodles that are way beyond the stuff you had in college. It’s also a world of prepared bibimbap, kimpab, and anything that you might need to take a gustatory trip to Korea.

Luxury Vacation Condo & Private Chef in Gulf Shores, Alabama

Story by Linda Kissam by Vagobond

Gulf Shores AlabamaWho said the experience of a lifetime has to happen in some far off place? Holidaying at a luxury vacation home rental in the USA can be as memorable as anything in Italy, St. Croix, or any other exotic locale. The United States itself is so diverse that it borrows elements from all of the world’s best destinations. What is your idea of the perfect vacation? Is it a whirlwind of activities or a kick-back stay and play? If it’s the later and includes a luxury condo, sugar white beaches, crystal clear waters and a private chef, I have the vacation of a lifetime for you. It was a unique experience for me, and one that I highly recommend for you.

What would you give to stay on the beach and out of the kitchen, unpack once, throw your purse and smart phone on a chair and head out to the water? Ahhh, I sense I have your attention. Think the Dunes Subdivision just 19.5 miles west of Gulf Shores, Alabama on Fort Morgan Parkway. Along with your luxe rental, hire an experienced local, private chef from near-by Orange Beach to prepare gourmet meals customized to your taste buds. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ocean breezes. No shopping, no meal prep, no cleaning up. Serious luxury living.

Gulf Shores Alabama Private ChefGulf Shores has a distinct food culture that you’ll not find anywhere else in the world and a private chef is guaranteed to bring the best of the Gulf shore directly to your vacation tabletop. A private chef is a wonderful way to expand your knowledge of the area’s cuisine without ever leaving the comforts of your villa. Who would I recommend? Chef Chris Sherrill – celebrated chef and owner of EAT! Restaurant and Staycations Catering in Orange Beach.

First things, first. When the sugar white sand beaches and blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico start calling your name, Kaiser Realty, Inc. is a good place to start your Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Vacation rentals search. Located in charming Gulf Shores, Kaiser Realty, Inc. welcomes guests from around the world to enjoy a fantastic vacation experience along the Alabama Gulf Coast in one of the areas most luxe rental homes or beach condominiums. With properties sprinkled along the 32 miles of pristine white sand beaches accommodating singles, couples and large groups, you are going to easily find your perfect vacation rental. Kaiser Realty, Inc.’s ability to accommodate groups of any size makes creating a successful beach vacation in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach a breeze. Specializing in romantic getaways, family vacations and large group accommodations, their expert staff will pair you with the best property for you and your idea of the perfect vacation.

Gulf Shores Alabama My condo experience was the “CARPE DIEM:: GULF FRONT” featuring 6 bedrooms and 7 baths. It is a direct Gulf-front property. Off the beaten path between the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay, the Fort Morgan Peninsula offers privacy, but easy access to area attractions. All homes within this subdivision have access to a swimming pool, located approximately 1 block north. Carpe Diem is conveniently located to 2 of this area’s finest golf courses. This home features lots of extras including a wet bar, 61″ TV with a home theater system, DVD player. Trust me; this is anybody’s dream vacation home. Here’s some (subject to change) pricing for you. Seven nights in peak summer $7,697.28 (there is a week minimum required in summer and peak season); 7 nights in winter $3,127.26; 4 nights in winter $2,172.46 (there is only a 4 night minimum required in “off” seasons). Adding a private chef to make the meals was a separate cost, but such an excellent decision.

Gulf Shores Alabama Private ChefOnce you find your perfect accommodations, call up Chef Sherrill to let him know what you want. Chef graduated from Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, S.C. in 1998 and has been a successful chef and entrepreneur for over 10 years. Chef was selected to be part of eight Gulf-area chefs to participate in the “Spirit of the Gulf, “a series of food and music events specifically designed for the US Olympic team and their families during the 2012 Olympic games.

What does Chef Sherrill do for his vacation condo clients? “We cook condo meals on site. The menu is handpicked by the client and my suggestions per seasonal and fresh product (produce and seafood). We take extra care to make sure food allergies and cultures are taken into consideration.” I asked Chef what Gulf Shores Alabama Private Chefthe benefits of having a personal chef prepare meals at a client’s vacation home. “Benefits? No wait versus standing in line during the summer. Many restaurants are on a 2 hour wait. Drink and eat in the comfort of your condo. Children can be served a separate meal early and the adults can eat at a later time. BEACHFRONT DINING!!!!!” I agree!

 

Resources:

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Visitor Info – http://www.gulfshores.com/

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