Saturday, December 21, 2013

East Hollywood & Downtwon LA Day, Los Angeles, CA


On a day-trip venture, my friend an I drove to East Hollywood for a trial run of Sqirl, a cafe noted for their jams, jellies, and preserves made from the produce of local farmers...and also for just good breakfast and lunch fare in general.  There was a line out the door when we arrived, a sign of a good place.  Although you might wait a while to place your order, might have to aggressively stake your claim on a seat, and may wait a bit longer yet for your food to be's well worth it all, so despair not.  The seemingly more popular items, and those we'd recommend highly, include: Brioche with jam of your choice (bread is thick, moist, with just the right amount of need a fork and knife for this one), the kokuho rose brown rice bowl (sorrel pesto, french sheep feta, black radish, hot sauce, lemon, poached egg), khabbouleh kale (with cauliflower, sumac, currants, aleppo pepper), and hot tea (served in a glass vase with a white porcelain cup).

Next, we set off to The Last Bookstore.  Located inside an elaborate-looking building, you'd almost miss it if you weren't looking for it.  Hidden inside is bibliophile wonderland: shelves for every genre imaginable, shelves for days and an upstairs complete with a labyrinth of books, shelves color-coded  by book-sleeve hue, a tunnel of books, themed-book rooms, and the smell of musty pages and dust all about.

I could have stayed there for several lifetimes.  Our favorite spot was this forgotten nook upstairs, next to some long-gone-unclean windows.  We sat there in silence for a while, lulled by the sound of muted city-sounds below us.

The store has both new copies and even a large $1 book section...I made out well with my spoils for under $10.

We walked a few blocks down to the Grand Central Market, wishing we weren't still full from lunch because there was quite a selection to chose from.  After pursuing produce and considering consumption options, we headed back to our car (there are several lots for $5 for all-day parking).  As we enjoyed some glimpses of historic architecture on the way, we marveled how or half-day in LA felt much more like traveling to Portland, New York City, and Seattle in one fell swoop...a novel travel indeed.

Day trip well spent and enjoyed.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Eagle Rock Trail - Topanga State Park, CA

If you find yourself in the Santa Monica area and fancy an taste of the backcountry for a few hours, then Eagle Rock Trail is your ticket.  My friend and I found a useful guide to the trail and how to get to the trail head online, so I won't repeat the details/instructions here.  

But, suffice to say it isn't the most rigorous hike you may undertake in your lifetime, but it also isn't nothing.  There are some hills, which got us to puff a bit while talking as we walked, but nothing too extreme.  We began at 1430ish and finished just before 1715 I believe, so if you have a few hours in the afternoon you can see what we saw.

I highly recommend going on a late November afternoon.  The lighting was spectacular, with our shadows growing long, and the slightly-chilled breeze providing a hint of a true autumn in a geographical location (Southern California) where seasons don't exist in the traditional sense.

What I liked most about the scenery, is it felt a bit like walking into a Steinbeck novel, the amber grasses, gnarled & leaning trees, wooden fences...and we even happened upon two horses grazing in a field.

The view from Eagle Rock itself (and do go up to the top...there is more traction on the rock face than you might think from looking at it) is impressive.  The scope of the canyon below and views of the Pacific Ocean afar (if the day is clear enough) are the perfect backdrop for a picnic lunch.

All-in-all it was a excellent reminder that you can easily (and locally) get a sense of being elsewhere, far from home, far from urbanized civilization...even if only for a few hours.   

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Portland + a 26.2 Parade

My flatmate and I ventured to Portland, Oregon this past weekend in order to participate in the Portland Marathon..but we did more than just the 26.2 Parade...

Before saying more about this completely captivating city and most enjoyable weekend, I want to give praise to the humbling and overwhelming hospitality of our hosts.  As good fortune would have it, we were able to stay with the aunt and uncle of a good friend of mine.  I had only met them once, at a wedding, but when they learned I was going to be in Portland for the marathon they immediately offered me a place to stay...even when they knew we would be arriving (after midnight Friday) and departing (at 0615 Monday) at the worst hours known to man...even when both their sons would be moving that same weekend...they still offered their home up to us.  We had expected nothing more than a place to lay our heads down, and that was blessing enough by saving us the hassle and expense of a hotel, but they flooded us with kindness after kindness that I find it hard to do justice in words...the examples of it will pop up in the post below.  But, they blessed us beyond measure, and I will always sing their praises.

Saturday 5 October 2013
After arriving very late Friday night (or rather very early Saturday morning), our hosts welcomed us into their cozy and impeccably decorated home, and we immediately fell into a deep sleep...but, in our typical fashion, we were unable to sleep in.  We awoke to the most pristine Oregon fall weather: slightly chilly, but a clear sky...promising excellent afternoon lighting for photographs to come.

Around 9, our host offered to drive us into town to the Hilton where we'd collect our race bibs.  First, since we had expressed interest in visiting it later, he drove us to Washington Park...which I shall discuss in greater detail later.

We didn't stay long at the race expo, but hurried ourselves through the various stop points (bib, bag, shirt, out) and began walking to Powell's Books.  Powell's originated in Chicago in 1971, but eventually was exported to Portland where it expanded to 5 locations in the city.  Powell's is unique in its formula of hard copy and paper back, new and used on the same shelf.

As a bibliophile, I've dreamed of going to Powell's for years, and it did not disappoint.  I could have stayed in there for several lifetimes, wandering aimlessly around the various rooms (8 of them, themed in different colors with different colors of books + a coffee shop + a rare books room...don't even get me started on my instant addiction to the latter), and inevitably being tempted into buying far too many books.  So, I limited myself to one, and came equipped with a list so as not to spend my entire Portland weekend at my first Portland-stop getting lost amongst the endless stacks of books.

We met up with my flatmate's friend at the World Cup Coffee and Tea House inside Powell's, and then checked out a Buffalo Exchange across the street.  We then meandered down to Waterfront Park and the Portland Saturday Market that is held there weekly, before making our way to the Portland Tea Shop, Camellia Lounge to meet a friend of mine for tea.  The shop is run by a friendly Kiwi (New Zealander) expat.  The tea selection is IMMENSE (they offer specialty teas from all around the world) and the prices were shockingly low for loose leaf ($6 for two pots of loose leaf, fresh brewed tea), and served in interesting glass mugs with twig-thin handles.

From there my friend graciously gave us a ride to Washington Park, where, if I was not already swooning over Portland after Powell's, I became completely smitten.  The fact that access to a lush forest, complete with 400 acres of trees and 15 miles of trails is adjacent to an urban center like Portland proper came as quite a delightful shock. 

We arrived in the perfection of autumn, afternoon lighting and I took far too many photos of back-lit leaves, light rays peering through branches, and thin-trunked Oregon trees in general. I couldn’t stop and I couldn’t get enough. 
We took the MAX to the stop close to our host’s home and were kindly picked up.  We then were treated to a home-made, carbo-loading dinner of spaghetti & garlic bread with ice cream for dessert. We turned in early that night anticipating the race to come in the morning.

Sunday 6 October 2013

Humbling us with selflessness once more, our host offered to drop us off at the race that morning.  We left the house before the sun was up, but the weather promised to be ideal running weather: no rain, cool but not cold.   However, we knew we were going to be waiting at the start line for about 45 minutes, during which time we would be rather goose-pimply.  So, our host, a veteran marathon runner himself, knowingly and kindly insisted that he did not mind meeting us at mile three to collect a layer of clothing from us: we were to look for him on the left side of the street just past the aid station.

The race started promptly at 0700 and I won’t bore what few readers I might have kept on this far into this blog with the details of the race itself other than to say my flatmate and I both highly recommend it for first-timers and veteran marathon runners alike.  It is most forgiving, with only one notable hill to speak of.  It takes you through downtown, into the industrial sector, across two suspension bridges, and through quaint residential areas, gorgeous trees abounding all along.  If you luck out and get an pristine October weekend like we did, you’ll certainly end up singing the Portland Marathon’s praises as well. 

One slightly humorous aside: at several points throughout the marathon, gummy bears were handed out by friendly volunteers.  As I reached for my first cup...the volunteer warned in an urgent, earnest tone, "they're not organic."  I took my chances in my dire hour of need for those delectable bears.

Only in Portland.

After the race was over, and having collected all our race-finisher swag (a shirt, a coin, a pendant, a rose, a Oregon cedar seedling to replant, and a space blanket) we hobbled over to the waterfront park area to simmer in the sun.  We then began our 1.2 mile walk to Salt & Straw,  for ice cream (which was organic, unlike the gummy bears).  We had learned of this place first through a mutual friend of ours at home and then by several Oregonians during our weekend.  Salt & Straw is known for its use of local ingredients but mostly for its unique flavors that include (but wasn't limited to): Cheddar Apple Pie, Sweet Pepper Jam & Goat Cheese, and Bushwhacker Spiced Cider Sorbet.  After a 30 minute wait, we both elected to go with the Roasted Fig & Yogurt Sorbet.  Let's just say it was worth the hype and worth the wait.

Our host was incredibly kind (once again) and collected us, saving us a hunt for and walk to a MAX station.  He drove us a different way home to show us a bit more of the city, and took us up to Council Crest Park, where Native Americans used to hold meetings and build signal fires.  It has an excellent panoramic view of the city (we got a few pictures of ourselves in our post-race fatigue there), but more impressively it offers views of 5 mountains in the Cascade Range: Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Rainer.  Don't miss standing in the middle of the cement platform there: it's an echo chamber!

We then returned back to the house, showered, snacked, and went to bed early knowing we had an early AM departure the next day.

Monday 7 October 2013
But we made time, by leaving extra early from the house, to make one last essential stop in Portland: Voodoo Donut.  Almost anyone who has spent any amount of time in Portland insists on a stop to Voodoo Donut...however, many give up on the venture when they see the line wrapped around the corner.  Never fret! If you are willing to make the trip at 0415 you will find no line at all!  Victory was ours that fine raining morn...we were in and out with our treats within 10 minutes.  Then off to the airport for our 0615 flight home.

And, best of all, we were happy we got to see Portland in it's proper painting: dampened by rain.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Bitterroot Valley, Montana

 Friday, 27th September 2013
My friend and I took a late flight into Missoula on Thursday, and were collected by her parents at the airport.  They are (currently) helping run a cabin & RV camp in Darby, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Missoula, and the owners most kindly offered up a cabin (for free!) to us to stay for the few nights we'd be visiting them.  It was dark, but the night clear, and even with headlights we could see stars abounded in the Big Sky of Montana overhead as we drove to Darby.

Since we crawled into bed in the wee hours, we let ourselves sleep in a bit on Friday, as much as that is possible for the early birds we both are, her parents helped us decide on a trail for our weekend's overnight hike in the backwoods: Blodgett Canyon.  Blodgett Canyon is a glacier-carved canyon in the Bitterroot Range (along the Idaho/Montana border) of the Bitterroot National Forest.
Prior to the trip, my friend and I had wrestled with the regret that we'd in Montana and not be seeing Glacier National Park (it being over 4 hours from where her parents were staying and only having a short just wasn't the right time nor the right circumstances to see Glacier).  However, the Bitterroot National Forest did not disappoint in any way, and if one is in the Missoula area...don't miss it.

Anyways, the trail head was in Hamilton, a 20-ish-minute drive from our cabin in Darby.  We began hiking around noon.  The weather was cloudy and the air cold but not bitterly so, and to be honest the chill just felt good.  My friend and I love the cold and grey, but we rarely get anything but warm-and-sunshine where we live, so we welcomed a change in weather eagerly.  

I was immediately made breathless by the contrast in colors of the scenery and the grandeur of the peaks.  The mountains in this area are jagged, almost menacing in a curiosity-inspiring manner, and the pines grow much higher among them then what I am accustomed to in the Sierras.

My friends parents hiked with us to some waterfalls, about 3 hours in, and then my friend & I parted ways as storm clouds built, to find our home for our over-night stay.  It began to rain a bit, and we kept on the move as the wind rose slightly so as not to get chilled.  From the falls, the trail gets more lush, more over grown: a clear sign that most day hikers turn there.  What is additionally amazing about this part of Montana (perhaps all parts of Montana) is that the scenery and flora of the woods changes quite dramatically as you twist and turn your way on backwoods trail.  When we started, it felt like a Yogi Bear backdrop, but past the falls it harkened of FernGully.  I was surprised by just how green the forests was throughout, with Hobbiton-like moss abounding everywhere due to the dampness of the rainy season and the mist that came off the falls and river that most of the trail parallels.

About an hour from the falls, at a trail crossing, we found a camp site that was enclosed by trees.  It was (relatively) shielded from the wind, and felt noticeably warmer, so we dropped packs and set up camp there.  As we did so, a ranger showed up on a horse, with another horse and mule in-tow.  He confirmed our belief that we had selected a good camp spot, explaining that 2 miles further on we'd find snow on the ground.  He suggested, that if we were up to it, we take a little day hike a mile onward to reach 7-mile Meadow, saying simply that it was a "nice view."  With that, he quietly meandered on to another site up trail.
With our tent set up, we first attempted a different day hike we'd read of in a guide book.  The trail got lost in the overgrowth, so we elected to go to the meadow the ranger mentioned instead.  The rain began to intensify and we had a moment of hesitation before committing to go on.  My friend had waterproof shoes but no waterproof pants, I had waterproof pants but not waterproof shoes, so together we were a perfect hiker, but as individuals we weren't exactly equipped for the elements.  But, we were too curious about the meadow and not quite trail-tired to call it quits for the day, so we hiked on.

Goodness are we glad we did.

The meadow is sandwiched between two rising walls of peaks: an amphitheatre of granite layered with pine.  Although it was rain falling where we stood in the valley, it was snow at the top of the mountain tops.  This created an incredible chromatic effect: white peaks with an oddly bluish aura around, layered on top of a deep evergreen layer of pine trees, on top of a honey-colored grass valley where we stood. It was nothing short of majestic.

We stood there a while, could have stood there forever, breathing in the blessing it was to be reminded of our own smallness, to be accosted by the great artistry of our great God.  The rain continued to gently fall, in the most pleasant of ways, but still: we were beginning to get whetted through.  So we forced ourselves to return to our tent down-trail.

Unfortunately, it as only 1730 by the time we got back. And even after dinner we were at 1830 at best. Daylight abounded, but we didn't have an option to hike any more that day given the weather and the limitations of our gear.  It was slightly maddening to us both, since we typically like to feel moderately destroyed on the physical-fatigue scale when hiking, and are typically in a fever to "see as much as we can!" when traveling.  But, we tried to remind ourselves that sometimes it is best, and what God calls us to, to do less and absorb the wonder of the beauty of nature more.

We tried to go to sleep around 1900/2000 but it was too early, so somewhere around midnight we woke up an had a 2 hour conversation played over the backdrop of rain pattering on our tent roof.  Hard to beat it.

As a quick aside, before we went to bed, we heard the sound of a faun crying for it's mother.  At least, that is what we thought it was after we ruled out "bear growl."  It was an eerie, haunting sounds of sorrowful woe.  Then we realized that it was the sound of the shifting weight of trees, of wet bark being shifted past each other in the wind.  It continued all night in a regular rhythm and in the morning, when the wind had died down, it was gone.  It had become so familiar that I regretted the absence.
Saturday, 28 September 2013

We awoke to rain.  And we weren't at all sad about it.  We luxuriated in the sound of it a bit before deciding to pack up and head out.  Hiking through the forest in the rain is one of my favorite life experiences.  Rain truly transforms the woods in a way perhaps unexpected.  Everything glistens and feels new.  The rain creates a symphony of it's own, the tune of drops on different surfaces (bark, leave, soil) becomes a instrument of it's own.  The smell of damp earth is intoxicating.  The sight of rain falling ahead, as bits of sunlight peak through passing clouds overhead, is a sight more mesmerizing than fireworks could ever hope to be.

We were soggy-socked and damp around the edges by the time her parents collected us at the trail head (noonish?), but could not have been more content.  We got some coffee in Hamilton before heading 'home' to Darby for a homemade lunch of brisket, portobello mushrooms, and fried apples.  The rest of the afternoon was spent lazily napping and watching random documentaries on the "Discovery Channel" before a homemade dinner of lasagna, salad, and rhubarb shortcake.

Sunday, 29 September 2013
We awoke to rain.  But rain in a different tune since it was on a cabin roof instead of a tent roof.  I went on a short job out in the wet, since it is my favorite sort of run to take.  Then we had a belated-birthday breakfast for my friend of her mom's famous "caramel puffs"... after a single bight I interrupted the currently conversation of the table with praise in awe at the deliciousness of it (and made sure to get the recipe).  From the table, we had a view of fog-hidden peaks which was initially disappointing since we couldn't see the mountains, but then I found to be quite pleasant because it made me focus on the intricacy of the trees.

Around 1330 we headed back to Missoula, to meet up with one of my friend's girlfriends who lived in the area.  And from there, we headed to the airport.

 We thought our adventure had ended...but alas.  Our flight left about 20 minutes late from Missoula.  We flew in a headwind all the way to Seattle, the turbulence leaving both of us on the nauseous side.  The result effect left us with a mere 25 minutes to catch our flight.  Rain poured down in classic Seattle fashion as we waited plane-side to collect our packs from our first-leg puddle-jumper.  We grabbed them as quick as we could and sprinted off in a desperate attempt to do all we could to catch our connection, but also being pretty okay with the possibility of being "sleepless in Seattle" for a night.

It was a long sprint through Terminal D, before running down several flights of stairs to get to the tram that would shuttle us to Terminal N.  In cinematic fashion, the tram doors were beginning to close as we reached it, sneaking in just in time.  As we wheezed to catch our breath, frightening and irritating all those in the tram car with us, we checked the time: 10 minutes left.  When the doors open, we ran up 3 more flights of stairs, and then got to our gate, joining the final group of boarding passengers: so long to you Seattle (until next time).

Although a short trip, and in most ways barely a taste of the vast place, we both concluded that we had left a bit of ourselves in Montana...a bit we would have to come retrieve one day in the future.  It was a refreshing comfort to see that there are still places left in the United States that are still open, left wild.