Later we had dinner at Brian's Pourhouse restaurant in Hood River. Food was still decent as during our previous visits but service was pretty poor. Our waitress was totally absent minded and did not ever care enough to apologize for her mishaps which were too many to list here. In addition I was disappointed with my main dish. It was their special steak with red wine sauce, morel mushrooms and asparagus. I never tried morels before and was looking forward `to finally experience their taste. Well, I did not this time. While steak itself was perfect – juicy and tender and sauce was rich and tasty the taste of both morels and asparagus was unrecognizable. They were stewed in the wine sauce and tasted just like the sauce itself. What a pity – to use such delicately tasting ingredients and mask their taste completely!
Next day, May 10th, we headed toward Portland taking our time driving along Historic Columbia River Highway (Hwy 30) visiting several waterfalls. Most of the waterfalls were accessible via very short and easy trails but couple of them required longer hike which we chose not to do this time. So we visited Horse Tail Falls, Multnomah Falls, Wahkeena Falls and Sheppard Dell Falls. Well, ‘we’ was slightly exaggerated since Alex went only to a couple of shortest hikes. His excuse was ‘I’ve seen it before’. Unlike him, I am completely obsessed with a sight of fast running water and cannot get enough of the waterfalls. This is the best time of the year to visit waterfalls. Due to the melting snow in the mountains that feed the creeks that form the waterfalls they are at their fullest and strongest capacity. And yet weather is already warm and sunny enough to enjoy them and to take good pictures.
We also visited Bonneville Fish Hatchery including Sturgeon Viewing Center with Herman the Sturgeon that is approximately 10’ long, 425 pounds and over 60 years old. He was very-very big fish.
Our last stops on Hwy 30 were Vista House at Crown Point and Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint from which you can see the Vista House. Views from both vista points are absolutely breathtaking; you can see the entire Columbia River Gorge in eastern direction, Portland in western direction and lush meadows and hills on Washington side of the river.
It was still pretty early when we finished our Columbia River Gorge tour and arrived to Portland so we decided that we have enough time left to visit Portland Art Museum. Last year we had very limited time to spend there so this time we wanted to see all they have to offer.
Well, as turned out, what we saw last time was pretty much it. They have decent size collection of English silver ranging from a 15th-century drinking bowl that also includes several very impressive items by famous Paul Storr and few American silver pieces. They also have small collections of Native American and European art and really tiny collection of Asian and Greek art. Their temporary exhibitions were not particularly interesting (at least not for us). The museum is still worth visiting at least once. It should not take much over an hour to see all they have to offer.
After museum we went for dinner to very highly rated Mexican restaurant called Nuestra Cocina. What an experience! It was rather small and very busy restaurant with open kitchen where you could see the owner-chef creating his masterpieces. We had very helpful and knowledgeable waiter Mike who helped us with our selection and even recommended good breakfast place nearby for next morning.
They represented different Mexican regions (Oaxaca, Yukatan and Vera Cruz) that we were accustomed to. EVERYTHING we had was very interesting and super-tasty. We had spicy lamb meatballs with cactus and chipotle sauce and Pacific snapper ceviche for appetizers – very-very good. Then Alex had marinated escolar fish with black Huitlacoche (Mexican Corn Truffle) sauce and green beans. He said that this was the best tasting fish he ever had (as he told me, sorry, but they make it even better than you). I had Cochinita Pibl – Braised marinated pork with pickled red onion and black beans. Pork was served in one large piece and was very flavorful, juicy and fork-tender. I absolutely must learn how to make it!
We stayed in centrally located modest but clean and friendly hotel in downtown. This was our second stay there. Their décor was very minimalistic and contemporary with Ikea style furniture. However, given their downtown location, pristine cleanness and VERY reasonable rates that included free parking (not common in downtown Portland) I chose to stay there again.
We started next day, May 11th, with breakfast at Broder, place recommended by our waiter Mike. It positions itself as a Swedish restaurant but I would say it is more Swedish-like food and not true Swedish but it was still pretty good. Their breakfast offered us new and different experience from standard breakfast places. For example, their hash had smoked trout added to it and their eggs were baked and not fried and were topped with pickled beets. Alex asked our waiter, who is Swedish here? The answer was, the owner’s grandfather; so much for Swedish connection. Yet it is totally worth eating there.
After breakfast we drove around Portland downtown area but did not feel like walking there. Alex really likes Portland but it feels way too liberal for my taste. So we headed north to Seattle via Mount Rainier. We are both obsessed with mountains, especially with snow-covered mountains so Mt. Rainier is always our ‘must’ side trip when we are in vicinity. I was also hoping to visit tulip fields that we saw last year on Hwy 12 near tiny town of Mossyrock. No such luck! This year there were no tulip fields, just a nursery that was selling tulip bulbs.
Mt. Rainier was as majestic as always- covered with blinding bright white snow. The waterfalls on the way to the Paradise were impressively powerful and strong – again, thinks to the melting snow. Access to the trails was still covered by snow but even from the road the views were stunning.
There is one more thing I am always looking forward to when visiting Mt. Rainier – the foxes. Every time we go there, as we get to the snow level, we see foxes. Last year we saw three varieties of foxes – red, beige and silver. They were extremely photogenic and not too shy. I think some of them were even posing for photography hoping to get some food in return.
This year we also got lucky again and saw two foxes – one silver fox near Paradise parking lot and one reddish-beige on a way back. The beige one was very brave (or smelled jerky that Alex was eating) and stayed on a side of the road for as long as I wanted to photograph him. What a pretty animals they are!
In Seattle or rather in Bellevue we always stay in Silver Cloud hotel. It is nice and super-clean business hotel that has significantly lower rates on weekends and is very conveniently located next to Hwy90. It is best to make a reservation directly through their site.
Instead of going to a restaurant, this time we decided to have cheese, fruits and wine event right in our room. We had some cheese with us and bought few more kinds in the store where we bought our Cascadia cheeses. Wine was dry Riesling and cheeses were simply delicious – very enjoyable dinner indeed.
Next day we parked our car in downtown garage and spend several ours walking in downtown Seattle. First, we visited Pike Place Market. I truly enjoyed the abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, flowers and many other interesting things; Alex not so much. It was very crowded there and Alex hates crowds. Then we walked around and visited few interesting store nearby; bought silly T-shirts for kids and new classy sushi set for us.
And then we ran into very interesting couple who were doing some political campaigning. What caught our eye was the portrait of Obama with Hitler style mustache and the sign “Impeach Obama”. It was also unusual that the girl who was standing by this sign was black. We started talking to the couple and soon discovered that they represent the movement ( http://larouchepac.com/) that sees Obama as not left enough. Their biggest thing is that he does not want to collaborate with Russia and China. After we learned about their position, we realized that in spite of common feelings toward Obama, we have quite different views on other things. However, they were very nice and polite people; just with views different from ours. So we agreed to disagree.
While we were talking to them, they were attacked by two people. First, it was middle age Russian woman who was yelling at them and calling them idiots for offending Obama. Second, a black guy started yelling at the girl that she has no right to have political position against a man of her own race. She answered him very calmly that this is free country and she has right to have whatever position she chose. Then he literally threatened her telling that if she was in New Jersey, people would not allow her to do what she is doing here in Seattle. I was completely shocked - so much for freedom of speech!
So after few hours of walking we continued driving north toward our next destination – Vancouver, British Columbia. We were planning to visit antique stores in Snohomish and Mt. Baker ski resort (another snow-covered mountain!) Unfortunately, it took us forever to get out of Seattle. It looks like they are repairing all roads at once and half of the streets were closed. By the time we got to Snohomish, we had only 30 minutes before the stores were closing. And it was too late to go to Mt. Baker since it was significant detour. So we went straight to Vancouver.
To be continued...