So You Wanna Visit Portland, Huh…?

The Usually-Updated List of Stuff to Do and Places to Eat

Now that we’ve been in Portland for three years and bought a house (!), it’s obvious we’re pretty serious about this town. When friends and family ask about our newly-adopted city, we gush about its people, culture, and vibe.

Now that we’re getting more visitors through AirBnB, we thought we’d put together a list of stuff we like here with links to the place/business or our Tripadvisor/Yelp reviews, when available.

This is by no means comprehensive. We’re still discovering new spots all the time and will update the list when we can, so check back for updates.
[Last update: 25 March 2013]

Overview

Driving Tips

  • There are a lot of bridges
  • Chances are, you are going to get lost
  • Relax and take your time. Portland drivers are slow, so you might as well go with the flow
  • We have an awesome public transportation system. In fact, it was a huge factor in our moving here in the first place. Why not take the bus or light rail? An all day pass is just $5.

Back to the Overview

Eat

Kale – Do you like curry? Have you had Japanese curry? Either way, if it’s not Sunday, you need to go here. Hands down, my favorite curry anywhere.  #Tip: try the Original Doria and thank us later.
Bread & Ink Cafe – The best ketchup in the world, I think it’s made with love or something.  And ridonkulous Chicken ‘n Waffles, probably because the waffle is from the Waffle Window next door.
Voodoo Donuts – The almost obligatory gut bomb when visiting the city. My favorite: the gay bar. Do yourself a favor and skip the downtown location if there’s a line around the corner and go across the river to Voodoo Too. Usually has a much shorter line and the same donuts.  Just saying.
Sesame Donuts – If you’re ever in Tigard and the Beaverton area, Sesame Donuts has really much better donuts than its more infamous pagan competition. Family-run and reasonably-priced, you won’t find pastries with shock value but usually perfectly made Goodness – lightly crispy outside, soft chewy inside.
Burgerville – Sustainable fast food with a local focus.  If you must have a burger quickly, this is a good place to get it done. The Timber Joey Smoothie tastes just as good as a regular shake with 0 fat and a fraction of the calories. And the sauce in the original burgers reminds me of Byrons back home in Hawai`i.
Miho – Japanese bar food with a twist.  Affordable, tasty small plates of food, including a vegan spam musubi.  Whaaa???
Taqueria Portland – Some of the best Mexican food I’ve found anywhere in town.
Original Pancake House – Yeah, this is a chain, but the original original pancake house is here in Portland.  Bring cash or check. No cards, sorry (made that mistake once or twice)
East Side Deli – The sandwich place we can both agree on, satisfying both vegetarians and meat eaters alike with its HUGE sandwiches.
Southern Belles – Our favorite food cart in North Portlands serves the yummiest burgers and sandwiches.

Back to the Overview

Drink

There are so many cool, funky places to have a drink, you really can’t go wrong. Try random places around town for variety, or go to your favorite neighborhood and just pick a bar. Distilleries, microbreweries, wineries — this town has it all.

The Green Dragon – If you’re into beer, chances are, you’ll find something to love at this laid back pub.
Plews Brews – When visiting St. Johns, be sure to stop in and have a beer at Plews Brews. The drinks are cheap and yummy, Bob Marley posters adorn the wall, and interesting characters are often afoot.
=Pick a neighborhood dive=
=Pick a brewery, distillery, winery=

Back to the Overview

Play

Ground Kontrol – Old school arcade that is 21 and over after 5pm.  So that they can serve you drinks with your Frogger or Star Trek TNG pinball, complete with drink holders on the side of the machine.  For $5 on Wednesday, play all you like for free.
Wunderland – I didn’t know this was a chain.  I’ve only been to the Avalon location and had a lot of fun playing ridiculous ticket games (Skeeeeeeee!) for cheap plastic crap.
Timbers – If you can score tickets, this is an absolutely fabulous time to spend with friends or family.  #Tip, take the Max to the park, if you can; if you insist on driving, park at the Smart Park at 10th and Yamhill and walk to the park.  Really.  Trust us.
Forest Park – If you’re the outdoorsy type, you’ll probably love a hike or run in this park.  Featured in the Grimm a lot, if you’re into that show. 😉
St. John’s Bridge – I hadn’t realized how iconic this suspension bridge was until I lived in the neighborhood.  Then, I noticed that many Portland businesses use this bridge in their marketing materials.  Probably because it’s pretty darn beautiful, its Gothic Towers framing the sky and/or trees beyond (depending on which way you’re facing).  Why not walk across or visit Cathedral Park below it?  Also featured on Grimm. 🙂
OMSI – the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry always has something fun and interesting going on whether in the exhibition area or at the Imax.  Go geek out!

Back to the Overview

Do

Drive Old Hwy 30, Waterfalls route – Best on a warm spring or summer day. Drive the old highway and hike the waterfalls along the way. Magnificent.
St John’s Cinema – Inexpensive first-run movies + cheap food + optional alcoholic beverages = an awesome movie experience.  Oh yeah, and I heard there’s a ghost.
Powell’s Books – One of the greatest book stores ever.  Go get lost. ‘Nuff said.
Willamette Valley – Beauty and lots of wineries
Lan Su Chinese Garden – An unexpected respite right in the middle of town
Washington Park – This place is huge and encompasses the Oregon Zoo, Japanese Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, and miles of trails through nature.
Oregon Zoo – Better if you have kids
Portland Japanese Garden – Everything you expect from a Japanese garden
Hoyt Arboretum – Beautiful park right in the city

Back to the Overview

Portlanders, what did I miss? Admittedly, I don’t get out much, so if I’m missing your favorite haunt, post a comment below.

Free Night at Portland Art Museum

Like this blog, I had been avoiding the Portland Art Museum since our return from Europe.  Perhaps I had art museum fatigue.  And summer was coming.  And the current exhibits weren’t very interesting.  And also, it costs 12 bucks to get in.  So, being the cheapskates, ahem, “conscious consumers” we are, we got the scoops on the free night each month (currently the 4th Friday)… and promptly forgot about it for months.  I know, terrible.

Modern Art

Photo by CafeMama

I recently happened upon an article about photographer Catherine Opie having an exhibit at the art museum, and we only had one free night left to see it.  Oh, it was on like Donkey Kong.

Parking sucks anywhere downtown, so we usually just leave the car home and walk or take the streetcar.  The streetcar has an Art Museum stop, so duh.  Awesomeness.  And free.  Awesomer-ness.

The museum is free from 5pm to 8pm, and they make checking in pretty painless.  Hand stamp, free bag/coat check, and off you go.  I didn’t learn until later that you could rent an iPod Touch to enhance your museum experience, or download their (of course) iPhone/iPod Touch app to do the same.  Sweet.

The museum is divided into two buildings– one side for the contemporary art and the other for everything else– connected by a cool underground tunnel (ok, ok, so I happen to think tunnels are inherently cool; am I alone here, people??).  The exhibit we wanted to see was on the contemporary side, and since we tend to take forever when touring anything with placards… well, we decided to concentrate Friday evening’s explorations on just that one side of the museum.

Because it was Free Night, it was crowded.  Singles, couples, families, cliques, guide dogs– everyone having a night on the town, getting their culture on.

Since the Opie exhibit was on the top floor, we thought we’d be smart and take the elevator up and work our way down.  Yeah.  Didn’t count on that elevator being really, really slow.  Or the crowds of equally capable folks stepping smartly up the steps.  Or that dude rollin’ up in his wheelchair, separated from his friends stepping smartly up the steps because of his wheelchair.  I love gentle reminders.

The climb to the top took less than five minutes.

Catherine Opie

Catherine Opie

So after all that, the exhibit, while interesting, was very… abbreviated.  Opie is a great photographer; I would have loved to have seen more of her work.

Like any museum, the rest of the Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art was a hodgepodge of love-it-or-hate-it pieces.  There was the usual collection of splash-paint-on-canvas crud mixed in with solid blocks of color with highfalutin’ names.  Lots of diamonds in the rough, though, which always make a museum visit worth it.

If you happened to follow our European tour of world-class museums, you may have been interested in seeing the great works yourself.  Now, you don’t need a plane ticket or even museum admission to see the good stuff.  Enter Google Art Project.  For those familiar with Google Street View, you can now tour a long list of awesome museums from the comfort of your own browser.  From Florence’s Uffizzi to New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), there’s plenty to see and admire… without the stern security staff.

Random TV Moment

We haven’t really watched any television since leaving the English-speaking countries.  This is usually just as well since we should probably be doing something productive like writing blogposts or watching the latest episode of Amazing Race on YouTube (internet permitting).  Nonetheless, I can’t help but do the obligatory once-through the TV channels once we are settled in the room.  On the continent, it’s usually a 60 second chore just to see if there is at least one English channel like BBC World News.  Then, we proceed to ignore the appliance but for the weather check in the morning if the internet is not working.

During my initial run through, I like watching a few seconds of each channel.  Normally, I am rewarded with some kind of American programming dubbed in French.  For example, today’s scan found that the French Cartman sounds fairly similar to his American counterpart.  In Ireland, I found that Sponge Bob knew Gaeltalk.  In Nice, we had a wacky deja vu moment…

IMG_1835

What's that category again?

Yeah, that’s the French Vannah White.  A couple more…

What's that E symbol?

What's that € symbol?

French Pat Sajak

French Pat Sajak

Madame, Monsieur, French Wheel of Fortune.

Museum Madness Part 3 – Versailles and Quai Branly

In the final entry in our three part series entitled Museum Madness, we explore the Palace of Versailles (sort of) as well as the culturally diverse museum Quai Branly.

I’d heard of Rick Steves’ free mp3 tours awhile back but completely forgot about them until right before Paris.  I was stoked to find that two of the iPhone apps, Paris Historical Walk and the Versailles Tour, were available as free downloads from Rick’s website.  Too cool.

According to Rick, if we only saw one palace in all of Europe, it should be Versailles, so we set off for the Palace of Versailles with our free tour and Paris Museum Passes.  We had to do some creative trip planning on the way there since our Metro passes did not cover the whole train ride, but no biggie– it was all a part of the adventure.  As we made our final approach by foot to the palace, we were impressed even from afar.  I could imagine being a peasant or country noble, awed by such a sight…

On Final Approach to the Palace

On Final Approach to the Palace

At the Palace Gates

At the Palace Gates

After getting through security and picking up an oh-so-helpful map (hear the sarcasm, people), we started our free audio tour.  The descriptions were very helpful in putting context into all of the rooms as none of the plaques or signs had any translations, despite the fact that most tourists were non-French speakers.  Of course, this is probably just to force you to rent the 7€  (10 on the weekends) audio guides.  With the exception of the British Museum, we have found that most are not worth the expense.  And yet, I digress–

Royal Chapel Entrance

Royal Chapel Entrance

The Versailles is indeed a very impressive complex.  Initially occupied with such opulence by King Louis XIV, the self-proclaimed “Sun King”, Versailles was part ego-maniacal, part nobility control.  Mistreated as a youth, Louis XIV was a shrewd politician and leader, forcing all his nobles to hold court at Versailles so as to distract them, allowing him to run the country as he wished.  The palace stayed in the family for only three more generations before being ransacked during the French Revolution.  The art went to the Louvre; the furnishings went to auction.

Stunning ceiling art... even better than the Sistine Chapel methinks

Stunning ceiling art... even better than the Sistine Chapel methinks

And herein lies the rub.  The palace is grand and impressive and mocked up well enough, but I thought it lacked character without the long-gone furnishings.  I found that I had seen better in other cities (the Hapburgs’ palace in Vienna comes to mind) for less.  Knowing what I know now, I would have been a little upset if it hadn’t been covered by the museum pass and I’d paid the full entrance fee (15€ at the moment).  There really wasn’t much to explore inside, and while we’ve heard the gardens (free to the public) are some of the most beautiful, the fall/winter doesn’t see much (blooming) there and most of the statues are covered up for the season.  Add to that the 30-45 minute ride from city center one way, and it kind of doesn’t add up.  Charity and I agreed that perhaps at 10€, maybe, but 15 seems kind of steep.

Part of the gardens which inspired The Mall in Washington, DC

Part of the gardens which inspired The Mall in Washington, DC

So we ditched Versailles only halfway through the garden part of Rick’s tour.  We wanted to hurry back to the city to squeeze in just one more museum on the pass.

We’d learned of the Quai Branly museum from its temporary exhibit at the Louvre.  The Quai Branly covers in depth a lot of the art missing from the Louvre:  Africa, Oceania, the Americas, and Asia.  We arrived just under two hours before closing, and right away, we knew the museum would interesting.  First, the building was very different from all the other museums we’d visited in Paris, built in a modern style that reminded me strongly of modern Pacific Northwest architecture– glass and natural light meeting wood and metal elements, creating a functional space.

Outside the Quai Branly with a famous landmark showing off behind

Outside the Quai Branly with a famous landmark showing off behind

The museum was also one of the best organized we’d ever visited with nearly everything displayed in glass cases in the middle of the floor, allowing you a 360 degree view of the artifacts.  Stuff that was in “storage” was in a couple of huge glass… towers?… neatly organized by serial numbers and allowing visitors to get a hint of what was not currently exhibited.  There were clever bench alcoves everywhere, some of which were equipped with interactive displays exploring some aspect of a native culture, art, or history.  Some were even in English.

Ho, Hawaiian!

Ho, Hawaiian!

As you walked through the different sections, your attention would occasionally be drawn to audio from a village in Africa or the South Pacific.  Most pieces did not have English descriptions, so we kind of cruised through and tried to figure out non-obvious objects.  We were lucky enough to catch a temporary exhibit of Iranian photographs– thought provoking and fuel for my Iran curiosity.

The Quai Branly was definitely one of my favorite museums thus far.  I would recommend stopping in even for a quick visit if you’re into art/native artifacts from outside of Europe, especially if it’s still covered by the Paris Museum Pass.

IMG_1294

Museum Madness Part 2 – A&M, l’Orangerie, Pompidou

Side note:  just testing a new layout/theme for the website.  Let us know what you think either way– we’ll probably be experimenting for a while.

On the advice of a friend, we sought out the Musee des Arts & Metiers and Pascal’s Arithmetic machine.  Luckily, the museum was covered by the Paris Museum Pass, and wouldn’t you know it, the place had its own Metro stop.  Sweet!  The A&M covers all manners of science and inventions– vehicles, communications, machines (think: gears), computers, and mad scientist laboratories. This one was definitely a nice break from the usual works of art.  Minus the attitude on the way in, we had a nice time cruising through the various exhibits and especially liked the Chapel and Foucault’s pendulum.

Flying Contraption

Flying Contraption

Charity on the 1s and 2s, super retro stylie

Charity on the 1s and 2s, super retro stylie

My favorite Metro stop-- too cool

My favorite Metro stop-- too cool

Next up, we visited the Musee national de l’Orangerie.  The l’Orangerie is yet another museum housing works of the Impressionists, most notably wall-length murals (yes, plural) of Monet’s Water lilies.  OK, so just a bit of commentary on Monet’s obsession— err… “work”… with those water lilies.  Essentially, the guy built his house then created a huge water lily garden out back complete with Japanese bridge.  Then, he proceeded to paint the same freakin’ garden hundreds of times.  W…t…h…??  Once or twice, sure, that would be awesome and creative.  But seriously, hundreds of times??  What makes him less insane than, say, Van Gogh?  Yes, the latter ended up in the mental hospital, but at least he seemed to paint different stuff and didn’t get famous for painting the same thing over and over again.  I know some people are really into Monet, but I really don’t get it.  Aaaaah… art.

Anyway, the museum also had tons of works from other artists which really impressed us.  We were especially surprised to discover some of the Picasso’s pre-Cubist work downstairs.  This one was especially interesting to us, from his “blue period” (the color palette explains that well)…

The Embrace, Picasso

The Embrace, Picasso

The Centre Pompidou:  modern art.  Before coming to Europe, no other phrase sent me running for the hills faster than “modern art”.  Difficult to understand, usually just plain weird, I’m not usually a fan of the stuff, but as Rick Steves mentioned (paraphrasing here), after seeing so much religious art, going to a place where somebody smashed a piano and glued the pieces to the wall can be refreshing.  And it really was.  I didn’t get a lot of it, but there were a lot of thought-provoking pieces as well as a few bittersweet ones.

Posing on her special day on the giant calendar outside the Pompidou

Posing on her special day on the giant calendar outside the Pompidou

Pro-Women Artist -- duh

Pro-Women Artist -- duh

One more museum post to go– later!

Museum Madness Part 1 – Louvre and Orsay

Side note:  just testing a new layout/theme for the website.  Let us know what you think either way– we’ll probably be experimenting for a while.

Paris really is a beautiful city– from what little I remember from being above ground and outside.  As Charity likes to remind me, we spent most of our time either in museums or on the Metro getting to those museums.  🙂  And why not?  We– ok, mostly Charity– meticulously planned out our time in the city, researching which museums would be open on what days as they all had different days of closure and widely varying hours of operation.  We filled in Google Calendar with our plans.  After counting up the must-sees with the maybes, we found that we could actually get the Paris Museum Pass and do some damage with it.  We only had to go to four museums as well as the Palace of Versailles to make up the cost of a four day pass– and we got to cut to the front of most lines.  Usually, those passes make a profit by counting on the fact that people don’t really use them to their fullest extent.  I can proudly say that they definitely lost money on us.

The first museum we visited was the Louvre.  I was so very excited to go– this was the one place I knew I wanted to visit.  Holding over 30,000 pieces (not on display all at once, mind you), it is the largest art museum in the (Western) world and would take days to explore properly.  As it is, we spent about six hours spread over two days there.  On the first day, armed with Rick Steves’ Louvre iPod/iPhone app, we spent a good two hours covering all the great highlights like the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Wings of Victory, all conveniently located in the humongous Denon wing.  Just that wing alone is large enough to get lost in, and we did– several times.  Even skipping all the baby Jesuses and Jesus-on-a-sticks, you could spend way too much time wandering the rooms.  Awesome.

Pretty chipper for an early morning start to the Louvre

Pretty chipper for an early morning start to the Louvre

Random huge art on a landing

Random huge art on a landing

The next museum we visited was the Orsay.  We got a brief preview of the building while on our discount river cruise and were surprised to learn that the museum is located in an old train station.  Built in the late 19th/early 20th century, the station fell into disuse sometime in the 1940s and was going to be demolished in the 70s before being saved and converted to this museum…

One of the old train station clocks-- with a view of the Seine River

One of the old train station clocks-- with a view of the Seine River

The other train station clock. Lovin' the Rick Steves' iPod/iPhone app

The other train station clock. Lovin' the Rick Steves' iPod/iPhone app

Though not as large as the Louvre, the Orsay still held quite an impressive collection of works and picks up where the Louvre left off– around the mid-1800s.  That means there are a lot of Impressionist paintings– a period I didn’t like very much before visiting Europe but have grown to appreciate, especially after our visit to the British Museum in London.  I was lucky enough to have grabbed the Rick Steves’ app when it was still free months ago, and so we enjoyed a free guided tour of the place.  I liked the Louvre a lot, but I think I liked the Orsay better.  Well-organized and a bit laid back, it didn’t feel nearly as frantic as the Louvre.  The lack of camera-snapping super crowds probably had something to do with that, though. 😉

Aerial of the Orsay-- imagine trains running down the middle

Aerial of the Orsay-- imagine trains running down the middle

The one American painting we found

The one American painting we found

More posts to come on the other museums!

And Now We’re in… Belgium…

After Ireland and a one-night layover in Amsterdam, we headed over to Belgium to play tourist in Brussels and Bruges.  First up– Brussels.

Advance research told us that there was not much to see and do in Brussels, but we went anyway because we couldn’t secure “affordable accommodation” in Bruges right away.  No problem, we booked a cheap apartment-type place in Brussels just a short walk away from one of the major train stations.  We trekked around the city a bit, admiring the architecture everywhere, including the Grand Palace

Heading towards the Grand Palace

Heading towards the Grand Palace

One side of the Grand Palace

One side of the Grand Palace

Another side of the Grand Palace

Another side of the Grand Palace

…and of course, the most senseless tourist site anywhere– the Manneken Pis

Manneken Pis - why is this a tourist spot again?

Manneken Pis – why is this a tourist spot again?

Ta DAH!  A little guy peeing!

Ta DAH! A little guy peeing!

…that’s right.  It’s a tiny statue of a little guy peeing into a fountain.  People travel from all over the world to take a picture in front of that thing.  We did it.  So did the huge group of Japanese tourists milling about in front of the little guy.  Apparently, they sometimes dress him up on special occasions, but he was nekkid when we were there.  Good times.

Ever since we started watching Rick Steves‘ show in Washington, we’d wondered if Belgian (“Flemish”) fries were really all they were cracked up to be.  After all, what we call “French” fries were supposedly invented in Belgium.  They are also different from the taters we know and love as they are fried not once but twice.

Our conclusion:  while good in theory, we found that the resting period after the initial cooking made the fries kinda stale.  Like refried fries.  The resting period is usually a mystery; you’re never really sure how long they were sitting there before you ordered them.  Ironically, we’d had some Flemish fries in Amsterdam and found that they were much better– probably because they were not allowed to rest for very long as the fry joints in Amsterdam were always really busy.

Brussels also happens to be the political center of the European Union, and being the political geeks we are, we were really excited to visit the EU Headquarters.  We’d heard that you could tour the facilities as well and maybe even catch a session in progress.  Yeah… well, we probably should have confirmed a few things beforehand.  We got there only to find it almost completely abandoned.  Apparently, we showed up on a holiday of some sort.  We saw more diplomatic representation in front of the Manneken Pis.  Heh.

After only two days, we were more than ready to leave Brussels.  It’s certainly a nice city– good transit, nice people, and all that.  But boring as heck.  Seriously.  So we headed to Bruges with higher hopes.

If you’ve ever seen the movie In Bruges, you already have a pretty good feel for the city.  And if you haven’t seen the movie, you should– not your average action/comedy/drama/hitman movie, for sure.  Here’s the trailer…

We saw the the film a while ago, so we had that in our heads when we arrived.  Unfortunately for us, the weather was crummy for most of our time there; kinda like the movie, actually, but with rain.

Random architecture in Bruges... and a crummy day

Random architecture in Bruges… and a crummy day

Bikes in a random Bruges square

Bikes in a random Bruges square

The Belfry Tower in Market Square

The Belfry Tower in Market Square

Also adding to this aggravation was the fact that everything in the town center closed by 6PM– shops, grocery stores, restaurants– everything.  It was crazy.  You had to walk across town (OK, it’s not that big, but still) to get to restaurants, bars, and “night shops” that still had a pulse at 6:30PM.  It’s a good thing the hostel we stayed at had 1) a bar with a Belgian beer tasting every night and 2) a city tour based on the movie In Bruges.

The latter was definitely an interesting experience mainly due to Kai, our intrepid guide, originally from NYC.  After the tour, he was kind enough to invite all of us over to his apartment for dinner.  We all threw in some change for the groceries and proceeded to drink and talk stories with a very diverse group of people– Australians, Canadians, Americans, a Spaniard, and a Brasilian to boot.

The Belgian beer tasting:  if we take nothing else away from Belgium, we have learned this– they really do have the best beer in the world (Charity adds, “So far– I haven’t been everywhere yet” ;-)).  Supposedly, Belgium is the birthplace of beer, invented by monks.  There are still beers made by monks from centuries-old recipes called “Trappiste” beers, and according to Kai, they are the best because of all the love the monks put in.  Normally, that sort of statement would make me laugh, but then I tried some and… well, let’s put it this way:  I am not– by any stretch of the imagination– a beer drinker.  But those beers with their 8-11% alcohol-by-volume content would and did make me one for a few days.  I still think about that beer and can’t wait to find them again.  Trader Joes maybe?

Oh, and one more thing– what they say about Belgian chocolate is true, too.  Made fresh daily, Belgians buy their chocolate daily like other cultures buy their bread.  Unbelievably good stuff.

Cool canal complete with swans

Cool canal complete with swans

Sunbreak!

Sunbreak in Market Square!

A Breakfast By Any Other Name

(fill in the blank) Breakfast

(fill in the blank) Breakfast

While in the UK and Ireland, we’ve stayed in numerous of bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) and guesthouses.  As the second B implies, the room also comes with breakfast in the morning.  More often than not, breakfast isn’t merely yogurt and cereal but a hot, cooked breakfast usually consisting of sausage, bacon, beans, an egg, tomato, and toast.  Sometimes you also get black pudding; sometimes you get hashbrowns or mushrooms.  Sometimes the tomato is missing.

Before arriving in the islands, we’d heard these referred to as “English” breakfasts.  Imagine our surprise when we got to Wales and saw “Welsh breakfast” on the menu.  “Neat!” we thought.  We were interested in trying something different.  The difference?  Absolutely nothing but name.  Sausage, bacon, egg, tomato, mushroom, beans, and black pudding.  As we continued traveling, the same held true for “Scottish” and “Irish” breakfasts.  Well, the latter sometimes included Irish pancakes, but that was the only difference.

That said, we found that the biggest B&B faux pas one could commit is to call that breakfast by any other name.  We saw this in action in Scotland when an unfortunate Englishman asked for a full “English” breakfast in the dining room.  The host paused, laughed, and asked “Scottish breakfast?” while fellow diners looked over and snickered derisively.  The poor guy stammered and giggled and managed a “oh, yes, Scottish breakfast, of course”.

You wouldn’t think the regional name of a breakfast would be a big deal (and perhaps it isn’t), but it seems more of a reflection of regional pride and a need to distinguish one’s area from the former mother country of England.  We have observed and often commented between ourselves about the general attitudes of both British subjects and the Irish.  It’s a broad generalization, but here it is anyway:  the Welsh, Scots, and Irish have a deeply-rooted suspicion and dislike for the English, and the English hold a general disdain for anyone not English.  The latter seems subtle in everyday life, but the former is a matter of pride and usually worn on one’s sleeve.  We heard anti-English comments regularly outside of England.

Before visiting Europe, I never knew that Continental breakfast referred to the kind of breakfast you usually find on the “continent”– pastries, muffins, bread, and tea/coffee.  As we leave the islands tomorrow, I will indeed miss the breakfasts, especially the egg part.  😉  More than that, though, I am going to miss these countries.  They are jam-packed with history and culture, and I have had a great time.  Hope to get back again soon.

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions

Galway Tourist

Quick note: lots of pics in this post, so please forgive us if it loads slowly.

As Charity mentioned, Ireland is the Coach Isle.  As we do not have a rental car to go sightseeing, when we reached Galway, we decided to set up basecamp and use the city as a jumpoff point for tours– something we only did in Salzburg with the Sound of Music tour.  Luckily for us, we found that Galway had a few larger tour companies that would take us to places we’d heard of from Rick Steves.  After just a bit of research, we settled upon the Galway Tour Company because of its very favorable reviews on TripAdvisor.

We went on the Connemara and Cong Tour first.  Between acres of 40 shades of green, we visited an abandoned friary, observed a stone circle and burial cairn from afar, and risked our hides dodging killer sheep to get some spectacular lake valley pics…

Reading nook at the Ross Errily Friary

Reading nook at the Ross Errily Friary

Medieval fish tank in the kitchen-- a constant stream of fresh water flowed through the tank.  Clever!

Medieval fish tank in the kitchen– a constant stream of fresh water flowed through the tank. Clever!

Connor -- hilarious and awesome driver/guide

Connor — hilarious and awesome driver/guide

Lough Nafooey.  Also we're being watched by gangs of killer sheep.

Lough Nafooey. Also we’re being watched by gangs of killer sheep.

Peat bogs: source of heat and former major revenue for Ireland

Peat bogs: source of heat and former major revenue for Ireland

Kylemore Abbey - a 19th century "castle" built by a very rich guy for his beloved wife.  For the last 100 years, it has been an elite boarding school, currently in its last year of instruction.  Transitioning to a tourist attraction.

Kylemore Abbey – a 19th century “castle” built by a very rich guy for his beloved wife. For the last 100 years, it has been an elite boarding school, currently in its last year of instruction. Transitioning to a tourist attraction.

The next day, we went on the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren tour.  The Cliffs have a new visitors center… and lots of walls to keep the tourists from going towards the edge.  Yes, folks, people have actually gone over the edge on accident, and now, there is a park ranger watching for fence jumpers.  For the Potter fans out there, the Cliffs of Moher were used in The Half-Blood Prince.  Besides the incredible Cliffs, the tour included a castle, an archaeological national park, an ancient wedge tomb, and a fairy fort…

Dunguaire Castle

Dunguaire Castle

Dunguaire Castle - closed to tourists for the season

Dunguaire Castle – closed to tourists for the season

Corcomroe Abbey

Corcomroe Abbey

Cliffs of Moher - facing south

Cliffs of Moher – facing south

Cliffs of Moher - facing north

Cliffs of Moher – facing north

Not walled like the other areas, so a gentle warning

Not walled like the other areas, so a gentle warning

Ballyalban Fairy Fort and our intrepid guide, Decklin

Ballyalban Fairy Fort and our intrepid guide, Decklin

During our many coach rides, Gaelic Storm popped up and really set the mood for our trip.  We’ve been fans ever since they performed at Borders Ward Centre (where we worked) over a decade ago.  An American Celtic band, they rocked the house and probably still do.  I would highly recommend catching them if they are ever in your town.  With that, here’s Hills of Connemara:

http://youtu.be/37OCRq8Sjfg

Update: this was originally an Imeem link, but Imeem shut down in 2009.

Night at the Thee-Ah-Taaah

Charity and I recently got around to reading Wicked.  I’d heard about the book from friends, and of course, one could not escape the mega-commercial, gratuitous onslaught of the Broadway musical.  First season Ugly Betty fans, you know what I’m talking about.

Since arriving in London, we could not help but notice the ads everywhere for it in the West End.  I remember being a bit remorseful about missing it when it breezed through Seattle, and since we liked the book so much, we decided to go for it.  So we’d been on the lookout for discount tickets at the tkts counter nearly everyday.  No love, no love.  Occasionally, we’d check online, and see a few 15 pound seats available waaaaay up in the nosebleeds, but they were out when we finally broke down and went straight to the box office on Monday.  Going on Tuesday was out because we had an early morning on Wednesday.  We got a lucky break for the Wednesday night show, so we decided to spend our last night in London at the “thee-ah-tah”.

OK, if you’ve never read the book but have seen the musical, you should go ahead and read the book.  It poses some interesting philosophical questions and themes that I enjoyed discussing with Charity.  On the other hand, if you’ve already read the book, I’m not sure you will enjoy the musical.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Unlike Charity, I am a musical fan.  Might be the dormant Drama Kid in me.  Who knows.  I just like musicals.  Love when TV shows have “the musical” episode (Scrubs, hello?).  That said, Wicked is a musical musical.  Seriously.  Not very much talking not-in-song anywhere in the program.  It was a little irritating at times, especially in the beginning.  It could also be that my irritation increased proportionally to how much they modified the story to fit the format.  Lots of chopping off storylines, characters morphed and merged, and of course, the storybook ending.  Gag.  OK, semi-gag.  I actually kinda liked it after all the tragedy upon tragedy upon “oh just give up on life already” tragedy of the book.  The book read like a Shakespearean tragedy.

Oh, and how could I forget about the Symphony of Sickness all around us.  I didn’t notice anything unusual other than Charity shrinking more and more into her seat as the play progressed.  At “half-time” (I know, I know that’s not what it’s called– I don’t care), Charity turned to me and said, “I feel like I’m in a sick ward.”  Apparently, she was getting coughed on from all directions, save mine (which reminds me:  time for more echinacea).  On my way back from the restroom, I had to run the Coughing Gauntlet– the tight space between the wall, the doors and the queue of women waiting to go.  Coughed all over me.  Good times.

So for the rest of the play, I was distracted with the full-on coughing from behind, the phleghmy, open-mouthed breathing of the guy next to Charity, and the symphony of coughing throughout the theatre.  A couple of times, I was shaking silently because the guy behind us was just obnoxiously coughing.  I wanted to hand him a Ricola and the other guy a tissue.  Probably should have.  Or maybe just wave my magic wand and make them go poof.  Charity kept catching the corner of my eye with her scarf over her face.  You’d think everyone had swine flu or something.  It was starting to make me paranoid.

All in all, it was a “wicked” night at the theatre.

OK, that last bit was Charity’s.  I take no credit.  What have you.