Rolling into a new year spurs looking ahead to fresh adventures and travels, lingering in quirky cafes, and discovering unseen vistas. Now that 2011 is finally here, I am chomping at the bit to be lacing up my hiking boots and boarding the plane for Greenland.
Yet before I look ahead, I think this is a fitting moment to pause and ponder all of my adventures and discoveries of 2010. It was a surprisingly jam-packed travel year. So here is my list of my 2010 top travel moments:
My Most Daring Adventure: Rafting the Black River Canyon below Hoover Dam with Black Canyon River Adventures. Yes, it was a fairly smooth ride with 40 other tourists, but considering how demanding fibro is on my body, gliding the river with my feet dangling over the edge and gazing up at the sheer rock as the wind whipped my hair and I scanned the cliffs for bighorn sheep – felt like I had scaled Mt. Everest. The views of Hoover Dam from the Colorado River were truly awe-inspiring. (Black Canyon River Adventures, Las Vegas and Boulder City, Nevada. http://blackcanyonadventures.com)
Favorite Musical Discovery: Stumbling across a bluegrass band jazzing up a lunch-time audience at Portland’s Farmer’s Market in the midst of rediscovering my hometown. The foot-tapping beat ghosted after me as I browsed the fresh berry stands, munched on a marionberry empanada, and chatted with local artists. It was like a soundtrack for my own movie montage of blissful exploration. (Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May-October at Shemanski Park in the South Park Blocks. Portland, Oregon. The Portland Farmers Market includes five other markets across the city. www.portlandfarmersmarket.org)
Favorite Sports Moment: Walking past a pub packed full of Japanese-Canadians in downtown Vancouver just as Japan scored a goal on Denmark in the first round of the World Cup. To feel the simultaneous roar of hundreds of people crushed around the bar’s TVs, jumping on tables, and spilling onto the sidewalks – at that moment I adopted Japan as my underdog team. It was Japan’s first ever World Cup and they knocked Denmark out of the tournament, advancing to the second round. Celebrations in Vancouver continued into the night, which is home to a large Japanese-Canadian community.
Most Underrated Museum Find: Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada. A gorgeous Smithsonian museum that details the development and testing of nuclear weapons in the United States during the Cold War with interactive displays, multimedia and artifacts. Includes fascinating – and sometimes chilling – video footage of the US Navy testing bombs in the Pacific Islands. Unfortunately the exhibit skirts discussion of the controversies about the program, but I definitely came away with a fuller understanding of our country’s role in the arms race. (755 E. Flamingo Road, Las Vegas, Nevada. www.atomictestingmuseum.org)
Favorite New Restaurant: Hon’s Wun-Ton House on Robson Street, Vancouver. A utilitarian cafeteria space, but do not let that deter you – their Chinese food is fantastic and a great value. I feasted on a pork and vegetable mango stir fry, hot and sour soup, and steaming hot tea. The pork was tender, the veggies perfectly crisp, and the hot and sour soup so spicy my eyes watered, in a good way! The lunch combo special is good value – soup, lunch entrée and rice for $8.95 Canadian, and I left with leftovers for a second complete meal. Top it all off with complimentary tea. (1339 Robson Street, Vancouver, British Columbia. www.hons.ca)
Favorite New Bookstore Find: Renaissance Books inside General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A used bookstore nestled in among the standard generic shops of airport fare – a refreshing find! Technically, I already knew this bookstore existed, but a couple weeks ago I found myself browsing the towering shelves and found a 1925 hardbound edition of Marco Polo’s travelogue along the Silk Road. The pages included lithographs in an Art Deco style. Powell’s Books in Portland will remain my all-time favorite bookstore, but Renaissance Books is an underrated gem. Next time you are stuck in the Milwaukee Airport, whittle away the hours among the musty shelves and see what you discovery. (General Mitchell International Airport, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Located outside of security checkpoints. A second, larger location resides in downtown Milwaukee. www.mitchellairport.com)
Favorite New Coffee Shop: Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, an organic bakery in Anchorage, Alaska. My cousin introduced me to the delights of a morning coffee break here as we watched young apprentices from the local high schools crafting the various pastries, rolls and loaves of bread. Sipping strong, black organic coffee and tearing off chunks of flaky, buttery roll while engulfed in fresh-baked bread aroma – pure bliss. (Corner of 14th and G streets, Anchorage, Alaska. Closed Monday and Tuesday. www.fireislandbread.com)
Favorite Festival: Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach. A summer-long Shakespeare festival on the banks of False Creek and English Bay, showcasing phenomenal local acting talent amidst beautiful, evocative sets and an intimate theater. There is literally no bad seat in the house and the sets are designed to pull you into the story, with the actors only steps away from the front row. I treated my niece to Much Ado About Nothing and the gentleman playing Benedick – John Murphy – possessed uncanny comedic timing. If you are in Vancouver during the summer, hop an Aquabus across False Creek to Vanier Park – for $35-40 a ticket, you won’t regret it! (June to September. Vanier Park, Vancouver, British Columbia. www.bardonthebeach.org)
Favorite Shopping Experience: Chinatown Night Market in Vancouver’s gritty Chinatown. Held weekly in the summer months, browsing this sea of humanity is mesmerizing – people watching, live classical Chinese music with traditional instruments, and the largest array of random stuff for sale I have ever seen: puzzles, clothing, knock-off designed sunglasses and purses, toys, cheap trinkets, beautiful Chinese silk blouses, clay teapots, mouth-watering street food, and a vast array of underwear, apparently fulfilling a high demand for undergarments I was unaware of! (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings mid-May to mid-September. Located on Keefer Street between Main and Columbia streets, Chinatown, Vancouver, British Columbia. www.vcma.shawbiz.ca)
Favorite Encounter with Nature: Hiking Power Line Pass in Anchorage, Alaska during the autumn season. Heart-stopping vistas from the Glen Alps trailhead overlook of the glistening waters of the Turnagain Arm, the city, vast ridges of mountains, and Denali on a crystal clear day. An easy hike along the power lines into a mountain valley. Bring your binoculars – if you time your visit for the autumn months, you may witness the annual moose rutting, as the bulls fight over the females. A fascinating ritual to witness. (Glen Alp Trailhead, Chugach State Park just outside Anchorage, Alaska. http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/chugach/)
Favorite Place to Assemble a Gourmet Picnic & Browse Affordable Art: Granville Island, Vancouver. The public market on Granville Island is a labyrinth of fresh and exotic fruit and vegetables, freshly baked artisan breads and pastries, and local artists selling their work. We sampled mango, nibbled on a white chocolate raspberry torte, and inhaled mingling spices. A sea of humanity weaved around the market, drunk in the live entertainment of a local jazz band, soaked up the sun, and traipsed through the working studios of local artists who have made this former industrial island in False Creek their home. Just an Aquabus hop across the water from downtown Vancouver. (Granville Island, Vancouver, British Columbia. www.granvilleisland.com)
Favorite Souvenirs of 2010: Baby loaves of Tillamook Cheddar Cheese from the Pacific coast of Oregon; smoked salmon from a local meat market in Anchorage, Alaska; a retro German team World Cup warm-up jacket from a shop in Vancouver.
Favorite Celebrity Experience: Attending the intimate birthday party thrown for James Marsters by his fans while at the Chicago ComicCon. It is refreshing to discover that someone whose work and music you admire is down-to-earth and gracious. For anyone who enjoys rock ‘n’ roll with a blues edge, check out his album “Like a Waterfall”. (For info on James Marsters: www.jamesmarsterslive.com . For info on Wizard World’s ComicCon: www.wizardworld.com)
Favorite Brew-pub Find: Deschutes Brewery and Public House in my hometown, Portland, Oregon. Granted, this place has been on the radar in Stumptown for awhile, but as I have spent most of my drinking age life outside Portland, I am slowly discovering this side of my hometown. Deschutes serves hearty, fresh and inventive fare – like garlic burgers, arugula and goat cheese pizza on a crispy crust, and home-brewed ales. Always a fan of dark, hearty brews, I am especially enamored with their Black Butte Porter. Spendy, but meant to be savored. The setting is eclectic sports-bar –with unobtrusive TVs showing the local soccer or basketball games, while friends dine amidst an airy industrial interior infused with warmth from the carved wood beams. (210 NW 11th Avenue, Pearl District, Portland, Oregon. www.deschutesbrewery.com)
Favorite Architectural Discovery: The recently restored and reopened Vista House in the Columbia River Gorge. This 1920s rest stop along the Old Scenic Highway on the Oregon side of the Columbia River is gleaming after years slumbering under the soot of time. Gorgeous marble and stained glass interior with dramatic vistas outside of the Gorge. Visit in the dead of winter and brace yourself to avoid being blown away from one of the world’s windiest spots. (Crown Point on the Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon. http://vistahouse.com)
Favorite Brush with History: Gazing upon petroglyphs thousands of years old while hiking Mouse’s Tank in Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park. Who were the people who drew these images of animals and stars? A reminder that numerous civilizations have shaped the Americas before us, disappearing to whispers on the wind. (Mouse’s Tank, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada. http://parks.nv.gov/vf.htm)
Most Underrated Discoveries of 2010: Atomic Testing Museum (Las Vegas, Nevada); hiking in the Valley of Fire State Park; autumn in Anchorage, Alaska – visually stunning without the hordes of tourists.
Tourist “Must-Sees” that Lived Up to the Hype: Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam
Old Favorites that Never Disappoint: Driving the Oregon Coast; dining on German fare at Gustav’s in Portland, Oregon; sampling local salt-water taffy while strolling Cannon Beach in Oregon; hiking amidst the crashing waterfalls of the lush Columbia River Gorge, Oregon; browsing the shelves of Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon; people-watching in Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland, Oregon; driving the stunning Seward Highway in Alaska.