After Seattle, we headed to the other big city in the PNW: Portland.  Like parts of Seattle, such as the Fremont neighborhood, Portland is teeming with coffee shops; interesting-looking restaurants (we tried several, all of which were outstanding); urban gardens; hybrid cars; and hipsters.

A classic Portland moment for me came while driving back from a superb French restaurant, St. Jack, full of Bordeaux and locally-raised lamb neck at about 11 p.m., and seeing a group of 40-50 twenty-something hipsters playing dodgeball in a floodlit park.  One gets the sense, at moments like that, that Williamsburg may have gone to sleep on the East Coast and then woken up to discover that it had become an entire city on the West Coast, except with more trees, fewer seasons, and no L train. Continue reading »

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Ferry terminal employee (not a mean one)

We previously blogged about the fact that everyone in the Pacific Northwest is nice and even tempered.  Since that time, unfortunately, we have found the exception that proves the rule: Orcas Island Ferry Terminal employees.  (Our opinions of residents of the places we visit are of course carefully reached through the foolproof and time-tested methodology of observing one or two examples of behavior and then reaching sweeping generalized conclusions based thereon.)  Sadly, it seems that ferry terminal employees in the PNW can be just as salty as the water their passengers travel over.

Our friend and traveling companion Elle learned this the hard way on our way back to Seattle from Orcas Island when she had the following exchange with a ferry terminal employee: Continue reading »

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Aug 252011
 

Glacier National Park is mind-bogglingly beautiful.  You’d think that we might have become jaded to natural beauty having just come from the Badlands and Yellowstone.  Not so.  Glacier pushes the bar that much further.  Lush, verdant trees (mostly pines) are everywhere; blue-green rivers and lakes (a color locals call “glacial flower”) dot the landscape; and to top it all off, glacial peaks hover in the background no matter where you are in the Park.  The whole picture is fairly overwhelming to the senses.  Luckily for us, each day has also presented a gorgeous sunny sky, not letting us forget why Montana is called the Big Sky state. Continue reading »

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Aug 222011
 

I have long maintained that mastering the standing diaper change is a critical skill for traveling with a baby or toddler.  In Yellowstone, I did my first standing poopy diaper change on the summit of an 8500-foot mountain, without wipes.  My advice?  Pull the diaper down quickly once, grabbing as much as you can, and wrap tightly.  Yes, you do have to pack it down with you (think of all future generations who want to enjoy the mountain, not only the one who just pooped).  A bag to wrap in it would have been nice, but considering my lack of supplies, other than water and food, it went well.

Bear safety has become somewhat of a hot-button issue at Yellowstone.  There has been one bear-related fatality in Yellowstone already this year, and signs warning of the hazards of bears are all over the Park.  (Further proving the danger of bears at Yellowstone, a follow-up segment to the 2011 bear fatality, being taped on CNN on bear safety at the Park, was disrupted by a bear.) Continue reading »

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The Badlands: great place to visit.  They are basically in the middle of nowhere, and miles from any major airport.  It took us the better part of two days to get there from Minneapolis.  As a result, they are fairly devoid of tourists.  The only visitors we saw were serious outdoors lovers, and scores of bikers from the Sturgis rally, taking place while we were in the Badlands.  Maybe the tough-sounding name of the Park appealed to them, or maybe just the rally’s proximity to the Badlands worked to draw them in, but the roar of Harleys was an ever present during our stay.  A staffer at the lodge told me that there were over one-million bikers in Sturgis for the rally and that they had come from all over the world.  Interestingly, the bikers seemed to stay away from any of the serious hikes, just checking out the vistas with very serious-looking cameras pulled out of their saddle bags.  They were all very nice to Jude despite some pretty offensive, unbecoming, and sometimes racist slogans adorning their bikes and clothes (not fit to re-print here).  An amusing aspect of the Sturgis Rally website is a list of the most commonly violated state laws and city ordinances during the rally (e.g. “indecent exposure[,]” bond amount $111; “deposit of filth[,]” bond amount $86, etc.). Continue reading »

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As we headed west across southern Minnesota, I began to think about dinner.  I pulled out my phone and hit the Yelp application to check out some South Dakota restaurants.  Would it be better to eat in Sioux Falls or Mitchell, our final destination for the day?  As I read reviews of a Middle Eastern restaurant, a supposed gem in a land of chain restaurants in Sioux Falls, and  a steak place in Mitchell, a much smaller town, it hit me just how different a road trip can be today than even 10 years ago with immediate access to a wealth of information.

We decided on Chef Louie’s in Mitchell (4.5 stars on both Yelp and Tripadvisor), with more than one person noting it was a highlight of their cross-country trip.  It’s cow country so why not go for a steak, right?

Based on a range of reviews I was not sure what we were getting into.  I felt inappropriately dressed until I saw the massive cow statue in the parking lot with another sign reading, “Welcome as you are.”  We walked in and I froze.  It was dead quiet except for the muzak; the tables had white tablecloths; and there was not a child in sight.  Except for us, the clientele was comprised entirely of staid, childless locals and bikers, who we found out later were in South Dakota to attend the 71st annual Sturgis Bike Rally.  One biker was, uh, unusually dressed for a white-table-cloth steak dinner, wearing a Harley t-shirt with cut-off sleeves tucked into his stone-washed jeans.  Maybe his was the motorcycle parked in front with the wild animal skull strapped to the back with his stuff.

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