Fight For Your Right: Get AirHelp

Let’s start this off with a little gratitude: Flying is a thrill. It’s a helluva privilege. And it’s a truly unbelievable thing—something we have to remind ourselves of constantly as we sit in that (hopefully) sanitized fabric seat, our knees screaming for an inch of movement, and our eyes shifting continually over to that hot coffee placed precariously on that flimsy tray. Really, the ultimate goal when flying is to try not to think of that industrially made bird your trapped in as a strange, stale, claustrophobic purgatory between departure and destination. No, this plane is doing something downright miraculous. (Louie C.K. expresses this in a far funnier way.)

But this doesn’t mean airlines should have free reign to take advantage of said miracle. Yes, their #1 priority damn well better be safety. And, yes, travelers expect there to be delays, cancellations, and unforeseen circumstances when dealing with big chunks of manmade metal navigating the stratosphere. When these annoyances inevitably arise, we remind ourselves that patience is a virtue—and so are overpriced airport bars. Complaints—and maybe even a resolution to never use that damn airline again—are aired, and that’s usually the end of it. Because many of us don’t realize we’re legally entitled to more.

Can’t complain with bubbly on the plane…

But we are! And I found this out after dealing with multiple delays, a cancellation, and some truly apathetic customer service from Air Canada. In my quest for some type of compensation after being in airport limbo for three-plus days, I stumbled upon a start-up called AirHelp. In a nutshell, they took on the legal legwork and I was rewarded with a check to the tune of nearly half the price of my international ticket. Here’s the deal, summed up by TechCrunch:

“For a delayed, canceled or overbooked flight in Europe, you can get up to $800 per flight. In the U.S., you could end up with $1,300 for an overbooked flight. That’s why airlines will fight you very hard not to give you your money back. According to AirHelp, only 0.1 percent of eligible passengers get their compensation.”

On AirHelp’s homepage, this is their promise: “If you’ve been on a delayed or cancelled flight or been denied boarding within the last three years you could be entitled up to $800 from the airline.” And, from my experience, they come through. Working with AirHelp was such a seamless and smooth process that I had to spread the love here. Sure, they take a hefty 25% cut, but it was far better than what Air Canada had offered me, which was nothing but a meal ticket (a measly $10) that didn’t even cover a full breakfast at the Toronto Airport.

Departures Board at Athens Airport

Departures Board at Athens Airport

Even after writing a lengthy email to Air Canada’s customer service intricately describing our bad experience—which included a cancellation on a flight from Athens to Toronto; a lengthy, hot bus ride to a hotel straight out of Caddyshack; limited communication as to when the next flight would be available; another three-hour delay once that flight was available; an overnight stay at the Toronto airport; and a whole lot of bad attitudes from every Air Canada employee we crossed—they only offered an apology, but not before saying this:

“While we make every effort to operate our flights as scheduled, regretfully, delays and cancellations occur sometimes. Most passengers will accept the inconvenience and understand that their safe travel must always be our first priority.”

That last sentence—that’s a problem. People quietly (and frustratingly) accept it because they’ve been made to think there are no other options other than accepting a crappy, half-paid airport meal. But as any elementary social studies class will teach, a broken system doesn’t change without a few squeaky wheels to raise attention and demand something better and fairer. Now, if those squeaky wheels happen to be attached to an airplane, by all means, airlines, delay that flight and fix them—and then have a Plan B. Otherwise, you’re legally obligated to pay up, and services like AirHelp are there to make sure of it.


San Francisco in 10 Years, 10 Spots & 20 Songs

A look at the bridge from Marshall's Beach

Climbing rocks to catch a glimpse of the great Golden Gate from Marshall’s Beach

This October marked my 10th anniversary in San Francisco. Yes, I’ve seen this city change dramatically, and, yes, it has become grossly expensive. The streets are a messy dichotomy of new construction and rotting feces. Beloved spots are hastily transforming into faceless condos, while too many of its people miss out on its quirks and quaintness because they’re staring down at a screen. But enough has been bitched about regarding growing economic disparity, greedy landlords, corporate takeovers, Zuckerberg and Google buses, “bro”-grammers and millenials swooping into a city whose history they don’t give one damn about it. I’m not here to add to that circular conversation, or romanticize San Francisco’s more culturally stimulating “better times,” or to yell at these kids to get off my lawn (I’m just an expat from the Midwest, after all).

Bird's Eye View of San Francisco

Bird’s Eye View of San Francisco

This little piece here is simply a reflection and a humble tribute to the city that’s informed much of who I am today, even if I don’t recognize some of its initial charm anymore — just as I probably wouldn’t recognize much of my younger self, a green, young college grad moving west with flowers in hair and tie-dyed dreams in head. I took to moving to the place that inspired the Beats and the Summer of Love with equal parts youthful curiosity and good old-fashioned culture shock. I played “Grace” to my best gay friend and new roommate’s “Will,” as any good single young woman would do in the rainbow-lined utopia of San Francisco.

Idyllic hilltop view of the Coit Tower, at Taylor and Vallejo Streets (Ina Coolbrith Park).

Idyllic hilltop view of the Coit Tower, at Taylor and Vallejo Streets (Ina Coolbrith Park).

It was 2004 and I thought nothing of Google, but I did have an AOL account (still use it too!). The Giants played at “Pac Bell Park,” a bus ride was $1.25 (now it’s a whole dollar more), the Mission had the perfect amount of grit and dive bars for a twentysomething making $10 an hour to thrive (pretty sure that’s no longer possible), and owning a car was incredibly rare (complaints about traffic and parking are now, unfortunately, abundant). My first experience at The Independent was viewing a local film about living along Divisadero Street. My first time at the Warfield was alone, after navigating a hasty walk through the Tenderloin and managing to score a face-value ticket for a sold-out show. I worked in SOMA, where eating establishments were limited, and ghosts of the boom hid in the shadows, waiting for the next bubble to distend. It was a fairly quintessential post-grad urban life, in which I learned to walk the streets confidently, make connections naturally, and hustle just enough to live as comfortably as one can in the living room of a shared junior one-bedroom apartment.

An old, dilapidated church makes way for another new condo complex at 1601 Larkin

An old, dilapidated church makes way for another new condo complex at 1601 Larkin

Fast forward a decade and I feel a bit more, let’s say, uneasy in this city, or at least frustrated — as most of us are — with its moneyed metamorphosis. I don’t believe there’s any one enemy to point to regarding this city’s extreme and quick gentrification and, well, suburbanization. I do believe, however, that this is a strikingly beautiful city, one that’s often been the site of incredible inspiration and change, and one that’s always attracted dreamers and schemers who have had the power (and $$$) to transform its quaint 7×7 limits in a few fell swoops of a golden wand. As one of those dreamers who despise those schemers, I’m still truly grateful to have been able to call San Francisco home. It’s been 10 whole years in this oft-romanticized city and still nothing can stop that great Golden Gate from taking my breath away.

To celebrate each year, I present 10 local spots, which I’ve counted on throughout the years to satiate my palate for great music, food, wine, or to simply get a killer workout that never fails to reward with a spectacular view.

1. Baker & Marshall’s Beach: Not only do these beaches allow for an incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge (and a few bare butts, too), there’s also a fantastic trail that links the two beaches, as well as the daunting “sand ladder” that leads you down to Baker Beach. This is one of my favorite spots for a photo op and a kick-butt workout.

2. The Independent, NoPa: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad show here. Some highlights: A friend getting kicked out after heckling Anton from Brian Jonestown Massacre; a Green Day “secret show”; interviewing the xx backstage; Clinic in their medical masks, Four Tet, Tricky, Band of Horses, so many more… Bottom of the Hill is a close second as far as awesome, small live music spots.

Handstand Tribute to the Bridge

Handstand Tribute to the Bridge

3. Darwin Café, SoMa: A quaint restaurant/café tucked in an alley in SoMa, Darwin Café never seems to fail with its selection of succulent salads and sandwiches that uniquely blend high-quality, nutritious, and seasonal ingredients. Their kale salad is an easy go-to, so are there relatively cheap baguette sandwiches (just $5.50), but with an ever-evolving menu (they switch it out every two weeks), I’m here at least once a week trying out a new lunch option.

4. The Barrel Room, TenderNob: An unassuming wine spot in another alley — this one off Taylor Street, halfway between touristy Union Square and the gritty Tenderloin — the Barrel Room was previously the home of the Hidden Vine (now in a much bigger space in the FiDi). From the alleyway, you have to carefully descend some rickety, carpeted stairs before landing underground in what feels like an effortlessly stately, wine-swilling grandfather’s living room. I prefer the small, dark nooks for intimate convos, which go well with a regional wine flight and the artichoke flatbread.

Contemplating life in SF from the soon-to-be-defunct Empress of China

Contemplating life in SF from the soon-to-be-defunct Empress of China, a kitschy restaurant/cocktail bar overlooking Chinatown and downtown.

5. The Fillmore, Western Addition: No so-called music fan can go long in San Francisco without going to this vaunted venue, where the poster of the night can sometimes outdo the show itself. There’s an inexplicable energy to the place, as ghosts of musical icons past haunt the hallways, whose walls are perfectly tiled in priceless psychedelic paraphernalia promoting badass shows through the decades, from The Grateful Dead to Pink Floyd to Spiritualized (one of my finest memories here). Worth the price of admission just to gawk at the posters and feel the lingering vibrations of one of America’s most important rock venues.

6. Golden Gate Park: This was where I would religiously spend my early mornings, four days a week, as a bootcamper with Koi Fitness. There are so many hidden trails and gems in this vast green patch that covers the western center of the city, from the de Young Museum and California Academy of Sciences to Strawberry Hill and Stow Lake to the Conservatory of Flowers, the roaming bison, and the Dutch Windmill. There always seems to be new nooks and crannies to uncover here.

Alcatraz innocently glows from afar

Alcatraz innocently glows from afar

7. Amoeba Records, Upper Haight: Another iconic spot for music junkies, this is where I purchased my first piece of vinyl. See, I grew up on cassettes and CDs, but when I was young I’d sneak down to the basement in my parents’ house and listen to my dad’s old Beatles records obsessively — this is really when my love for music sprouted. So, when I finally got my own record player years later, my first stop was here. Intimidated as hell by the street kids outside and the music dorks and snobs inside this beast, I went straight for Abbey Road first, as boring and cliché as that may be — I’m sorry, but a record collection without a Beatles album is suspect.

8. Broadway-Columbus-Kearny Triangle, North Beach: This has become a favorite weekend afternoon spot for Julian and I to sip on Four Barrel coffee from Reveille Coffee Co., while catching rays on the adjacent outdoor benches that overlook the iconic copper-green Sentinel Building occupied by Francis Ford Coppola’s film studio. For a bite, we’ll head just across the street to The Station SF, which serves a mean avocado-veggie toast combo, and then head back on Columbus to Brioche Bakery, which serves local French chef Alexandre Trouan’s L’Artisan Gourmet Parisian Macarons, a perfectly packaged two-bite sweet. After filling up, we’ll dash into Urban Sidewalk, a cozy clothing boutique featuring local and independent designers at reasonable prices, and then cross the street to the historic City Lights Bookstore for a whiff of Beat history and some especially great staff picks.

Transamerica Building, Downtown SF

Transamerica Building, between near North Beach and the FiDi

9. Grand View Park, Inner Sunset: While I initially dreaded heading to this spot as part of one of my bootcamp’s hardest uphill running workouts (start from the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, and you’ll understand), it was always a delight to get to the top of this thing and take in some spectacular 360 views, from the ocean to the Bay Bridge (as long as the fog had somewhat dissipated).

10. Darbar Restaurant, Polk Gulch/Nob Hill: A hole-in-the-wall next to a lingerie shop on Polk Street, this Indian/Pakistani spot was where I had my first try of Indian food some 10 years ago (the naan sold me immediately), and it’s now become a neighborhood standby for Julian and me. The service and ambiance are little to be desired, but the tongue-tingling spices, fluffy cheese naan, and affordable prices (under $30 for a filling meal for two) keep us coming back regularly. An alternate cheap eat can be found at Nob Hill haunt Fresh Brew Coffee, where you can find one of the city’s best banh mi sandwiches for under $5.

101 Music in North Beach

101 Music in North Beach

Lastly… though music is a sadly fading scene in San Francisco (check out Exit Music: Musicians Are Leaving San Francisco. Can the City’s Legendary Scene Survive? for an excellent report on this from SF Weekly’s Ian S. Port), it still defines a lot of why I was attracted to this city and how I’ve enjoyed my days here. So, without further ado, here’s San Francisco in 20 Songs:

Otis Redding, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”
Girls, “Life in San Francisco”
Tony Bennett, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”
The Animals, “San Franciscan Nights”
Grateful Dead, “Truckin'”
Janis Joplin & The Big Brother Holding Company, “Summertime”
Rogue Wave, “California”
Jefferson Airplane, “White Rabbit”
The Brian Jonestown Massacre, “Anemone”
Scott McKenzie, “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”
Chris Isaak, “San Francisco Days”
Foxygen, “San Francisco”
Dead Kennedys, “California Über Alles”
Faith No More, “Epic”
Flipper, “Sex Bomb”
Primus, “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers”
Arctic Monkeys, “Fake Tales of San Francisco”
The Dodos, “Fools”
The Fresh & Onlys, “Drugs”
Thee Oh Sees, “The Dream”

PhotoPhiles: Santorini, Greece

The beauty of Santorini!

Pristine whites against breathtaking blues on the majestic island of Santorini.

PhotoPhiles is a recurring feature spotlighting some of our favorite photos taken on and off the road. In this third edition, we welcome you to the fantastical Greek island of Santorini, well-known to many as one of the most stunning and romantic places on Earth. Only with divine destruction could such surreal beauty emerge. The small island’s literal earth-shattering origins are a constant reminder as one walks, scoots, or ATVs along the jagged edges of the caldera. No, pictures don’t even come close to doing this land justice, but we’re willing to at least give it a try…

Handstand Steph ventures to the edge of paradise along the Fira-Oia path. We hiked through Firà, Firostefáni and Imerovígli, tracing the caldera and taking in incredible views every step of the way.

Cafe view in Oia had JCrew in disbelief and bliss.

JCrew enjoys a mighty cup of brew, a perfect complement to Oia’s ridiculous views.

This is where the 9km walk really turns into a hike, with near desert-like conditions. Bring water!

A thin slice of land topped with cream and sandwiched between endless serenity.

Red Beach, Santorini Salute!

JCrew shows his respect for the blazing beauty of Santorini’s Red Beach.


No, this isn’t a funky cottage with amazing style — it’s part of a church near Red Beach in Akrotiri.


Handstand Steph salutes the windmill and shows off her skills on the steps leading to Amoudi Bay


Classic Santorini, sunhat and all.

Sanotrini as it is today comes from a volcanic eruption.

A constant reminder of Santorini’s volcanic roots is forever burned into the ground.

The style of Santorini

Little white boxes stacked atop the vibrant town of Fira.

Sanotini Garbage collection!

Garbage collection, Oia-style. The donkey was not as amused as we were…


Bruiser, aka our ATV rental, posing in front of Aghios Artemios Traditional Houses, a cave hotel showcasing Cycladic architecture. The church, the only on the island with a light blue dome, dates back to the 15th century.


Tahiti’s Tantalizing Treasures

Tahiti is France’s most majestic of mistresses. It only needs to sit there prettily, titillating with its simplicity, its shocking blues, its serene waters, its verdant ground split and dotted along the South Pacific in 118 brilliant pieces. This is a land where even the fish seem to jump so close to the shoreline as to get a glimpse of its beauty. Even the word “Tahiti” sounds wickedly exotic to the English tongue.

The Moorea palm lean above crystal-clear aquamarine waters

The palms bow down to the breathtaking crystal-clear waters of Moorea.

But is there substance behind this breathtaking paramour? Is it all a façade dressed up in little grass shacks and perfectly tilted palms, an ugly reality all wrapped tidily in aquamarine lagoons? Like many precious islands around the globe, there is a dark history here, but while the native Polynesians of Tahiti certainly face an identity crisis — an unfortunate byproduct of any territory fallen victim to colonization — they remain (to our eyes, at least) peaceful and patient, with a puckish sense of humor, too. They’re easy-going but not lazily so. “Sustainable living,” meanwhile, is simply just living in Tahiti — it’s surviving off the land, respecting it, and thriving with it. It’s combining just-caught fish with milk from just-plucked coconuts and turning it into one of the world’s greatest culinary treasures (aka poisson cru).

Fresh "coco" by the beach

Fresh “coco” by the beach

That said, the French influence inevitably looms, not just in the language spoken, but in the tiny details, too — like locals bicycling down a busy street with a half-dozen freshly baked baguettes nimbly placed in hand, or a can of foie gras innocently placed in the refrigerated section of the supermarche. Ask a French person and they will say, “This is France.” To us, it was simply the paradise a postcard has no right trying to sum up.

Tahitian Sunset

Tahitian Sunset

The flight to Tahiti is really kind of frightening, in an existential sort of way — this is the case when flying over any large body of water, but the Pacific is an especially terrifying beast. It makes you truly want to smack lips with any tiny speck of solid ground you just so happen to land on in the middle of it all. Those who only go so far as Hawaii (from the U.S.) are missing out on another extra three hours of airtime — and, honey, is it worth it. Eight hours after wheels up in L.A., half asleep and tripping down the stairs of the great jumbo-jet, the sun’s rage will quickly slap you right across the face. You are, after all, just south of the equator — the sun’s most favorite residence. A lei made of fresh flowers and herbs soon graces your neck and the buzz of excitement starts to simmer down to an ecstatic calm. Tahiti — she grabs you right from the get-go.

Hangin' Loose in Moorea

Hangin’ Loose in Moorea

Our shuttle took us to Le Meridien — a resort roughly 30 minutes from French Polynesia’s capital city of Papeete — where we would be staying for the next five nights. (Had we not found an amazing Travelzoo deal that included both flight and hotel, we may have opted for one of the pensions that dot the island — a great choice for budget-minded travelers.) We were greeted by the hotel’s lush grounds and expansive lobby, which offers you a sweet peek of what lies ahead — a grand sand-bottomed pool and, even further out, those renowned bungalows sitting so cutely atop a glistening lagoon. Our receptionist was friendly and efficient (Tino, in particular was helpful during our entire stay), and though we were too early to check in to our room, we were welcome to lounge by the pool and reclaim any valuable sleep lost on the flight.

Beach Daze at Le Meridien

Beach Daze at Le Meridien

Our garden-view room was big and spacious, with a large bathroom and a tub fit for a Tahitian king. But it’s Le Meridien’s beachfront location that is its main allure. The beach may be small, but it’s the near 80-degree water you’d rather be sprawled out in anyway.  [PRO TIP: Water shoes are essential for any beach in Tahiti, in order to avoid being stabbed by coral or getting stung by the infamous “stone fish,” which can land you in the hospital.]

Navigating around bungalows, coral, and multi-colored fish

Navigating around bungalows, coral, and multi-colored fish

If you have an exceptionally fat pocketbook, splurge for a bungalow. We only got a tour of one, but milked that as long as we could…

Le Meridien Beach & Bungalows

Le Meridien’s beach & bungalows

Stay tuned for Pt. 2, which will discuss the food (lots of baguettes!, fresh seafood, and the only affordable dinner on the island: the “roulottes,” or food trucks), a day-trip around Tahiti, and a visit to the unspoiled neighboring island of Moorea.


Trip Daze: Calistoga’s Mud, Wine, and Good Times

A diorama of Calistoga's heyday, from the Sharpsteen Museum of Calistoga History

A diorama of Calistoga’s heyday, from the Sharpsteen Museum of Calistoga History

Ok, I admit that my knowledge of the town of Calistoga pretty much stopped at its sparkling mineral water line — a favorite purchase for a refreshing gas station treat. And though I’ve driven through the Napa Valley town on numerous occasions — always noting “Dr. Wilkinson’s Mud Baths” and other signs touting spa bliss — other wine locales in the area had managed to always lure me away. So when researching a quick weekend trip from San Francisco, Julian and I had decided to bypass the more populated Sonoma and Napa and try out Calistoga, home to hot springs, vineyards, and old tourist destinations (or traps depending on how much of a geological nerd you may be) like the Petrified Forest and the Old Faithful Geyser of California (okay, that’s definitely a trap with its sad petting zoo as its best attempt to entice the kiddies).


The Sunburst Calistoga
We had come across a new hotel, the Sunburst Calistoga. Its sleek yet retro décor — and, better yet, its promise of mineral water pools — made it a favorable accommodation choice. (Not to mention the Living Social deal I found just a few days after our initial Internet discovery of the place.) Turns out the Sunburst advertised discounted prices across every major deal site — including Groupon and Travelzoo — so we arrived at the motel-like structure on the edge of town to a fully packed house. This meant service was slow and the pools crowded (so much for a relaxing dip in the mineral pools — which smelled more of chlorine than anything else). The Sunburst could benefit from a tighter pool policy (don’t allow outsiders, for example), another employee at the front desk during peak times, and a more robust and fresh breakfast spread). But overall the rooms were comfortable, and the brightly colored, ’50s-hinting décor cute and functional. The location was ideal, and the price was right — especially for Napa Valley — at just $130 a night. A stay during the week may be your best bet here.

Lounging in the lobby of the Sunburst Calistoga

Lounging in the lobby of the Sunburst Calistoga


Tamber Bey Vineyards
Down the road just a few blocks from the Sunburst is Calistoga’s main drag, dotted with olive oil shops, tasting rooms, restaurants, and cafes. We recommend stopping by the Visitors Center at 1133 Washington Street to get discounts on attractions like wineries and hot springs, and great advice from the helpful staff. Our best find here was a 2 for 1 tasting coupon at the spacious and serene Tamber Bey Vineyards — one of the highlights of our trip. Their fairly new location (relocated from St. Helena late in 2013) is set amongst an expansive 22-acre equestrian paradise. Grabbing a sunny seat outside means you’ll find yourself flanked by horse stables, but even if you’re not the equine type (me, not so much), this never distracts from the tasting experience, which they make truly comfortable here. Splurge and get the cookie and wine pairings (it’s worth the extra $10). The cookies are made by a grad from the nearby Culinary Institute of America, and expertly paired with the wine selections.

Tamber Bey Vineyards

Tamber Bey Vineyards

Golden Haven Hot Springs
Now, of course, no trip to Calistoga is without a little pampering. We chose Golden Haven Hot Springs because of their great deal on a couple’s mud bath and free use of their mineral pools (at $64/person). Golden Haven follows the “traditional” mud bath process, and the place feels a bit haunted by miners and hippies past, but that only adds to the mystical experience. As newbie mud bathers we were a bit hesitant climbing into the tubs, especially when told the bottoms’ll burn ya! But once comfortably settled in the mix of mud, clay, and Calistoga hot spring water, it’s like floating on a heated quilt full of tiny, densely packed beads massaging your every crevice. Your body won’t sink, but your mind pleasantly will. After about 15 minutes, you shower off, slip into your private mineral hot tub, and then get escorted to a softly lit room where you’re wrapped in a warm blanket and encouraged to take your mind to far-off lands.

Golden Haven Hot Springs

Golden Haven Hot Springs

Sharpsteen Museum of Calistoga History
Once that mud-high fades, one last stop in town should be at the Sharpsteen Museum of Calistoga History. It’s a charming little spot dedicated to one of the more fascinating personalities of Gold Rush times: pioneer, promoter, entrepreneur, and California’s first millionaire, Sam Brannan. Just seeing the timeline of this guy’s life is worth the $3 donation. I’m shocked there hasn’t already been a Hollywood movie depicting his life of Mormonism, multiple marriages, deadly shoot-outs, lucrative investments, and eventually bankruptcy. The museum is named after Ben Sharpsteen, an animator for Walt Disney, and so you’ll also find a good stock of Disney memorabilia.

Listening up in the Sharpsteen Museum of Calistoga History

Listening up in the Sharpsteen Museum of Calistoga History

While Calistoga may not have the same luster it did when Brannan opened his original Calistoga Hot Springs Resort some 150 years ago, it still has a rustic kind of charm without the hoity-toity Napa pretensions. Strangest thing, though: I didn’t come across one bottle of Calistoga water…


The Model Bakery
Less than 10 miles southeast of Calistoga is the decidedly chicer town of St. Helena. Here, the dining options are aplenty and a little more varied than in Calistoga. There’s a good cluster of restaurants, cafes, olive oil shops, and boutiques along and around Main Street, so it’s best to park and take a stroll around the ‘hood. Food must-stops include the Model Bakery, whose claim to fame is their fluffy, hearty English muffins — and I can vouch that you’ll think twice about ever getting a package of Thomas’ after biting into one of Model’s. And though the wealth of pastries, breads, cakes, and pies, will have you more than salivating, they also offer sandwiches and salads packed with fresh, seasonal veggies to offset any sugary indulgent.

Prosecco at Himalayan Sherpa Kitchen

Prosecco at Himalayan Sherpa Kitchen

Himalayan Sherpa Kitchen
For dinner, I highly recommend the Himalayan Sherpa Kitchen. The owners here are from Nepal and offer a wide assortment of traditional Nepali and Indian dishes. The service was impeccable — gracious and efficient — but the food is what really left a lasting impression. It’s a delicate balance bringing together the rich spices of this type of cuisine; when done best, the flavors lie waiting under your tongue, slowly colliding, until your taste buds pop with delight — and we happily experienced that here. The naan bread (you can also get with basil or cilantro) was optimally soft on the inside, crispy on the out. The Saag Paneer was rich and creamy, and the Tandoori Tikka chicken breast was tender and spiced just right with the peppers and onions — both go well with a glass of prosecco. All of that was plenty for two people. Full and satisfied, a belly-easing mint tea was our perfect nightcap.

Trip Daze: Portland’s Best Tastes and Sights

Portland CollageForget San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle. The West Coast’s premier culinary destination is much more modest. Portland may seem a very “vanilla” town, but in our four days there, we had everything from vegan doughnuts to Cuban tapas, French bites to Iraqi-Jewish street food, Thai cuisine to Lebanese specialties, gluten-free beer to homemade kombucha. (Heck, we even went salsa dancing at an underground club. Check out Andrea’s Cha Cha Cha Club in the Industrial District, and prepare to be intimidated by some serious salsa movers and shakers.) The food stand culture alone is a fascinating display of the independent-minded spirit of this town. Areas of specialty food stands pop up like mini housing developments devoted to nothing other than neighborliness and nourishment. Portland’s lack of big chains allows for healthier competition among these smaller operations, meaning it’s damn hard to find a dud. And it’s damn hard to empty your wallet in the process (ie. the food here is cheap!). But aside from eating and drinking, there’s the grand Powell’s Books, the vibrant International Rose Test Garden, and even one of the U.S.’s few bungee jumping spots just an hour north of the city. Follow our journey through Portland below and discover the charms, the thrills, and the amazing treats it has to offer.


Pambiche Cocina & Reposteria Cubana
2811 NE Glisan St.

PambichePortland is some 2,700 miles from Cuba, but the vibrantly colored and muraled building housing Pambiche plants you in the heart of Havana (or at least maybe Miami). Happy hour here is a steal, from the flaky-crusted empanadas to the light and juicy Ensalada Caribena (a cabbage slaw tossed with fresh citrus and herbs and just $3.50 for a big bowl of it) to the Ropa Vieja, a dish of shredded beef in tomato broth ($4.50). The Yuca Frita and Maduros (fried plantains) were on the dry side, but nothing a Cerveza Cristal or Periodista (AKA “The Journalist,” a cocktail or rum + passion fruit liqueur + orange juice + lime) can’t fix.

The Hazel Room
3279 SE Hawthorne Blvd.

The Hazel RoomWe stumbled upon this charming place and found it to be a must for brunch. Outdoor seating is ideal when it’s sunny, of course, and so is a mimosa with grapefruit juice or a coffee with a generous $2 side of whiskey. For brunch, go for the Chorizo & Potato Hash Scramble (pictured to the left) served with a hearty pile of gluten-free toast, or the Tallboy (a pulled pork, egg, and portabella mushroom squeezed between a buttery biscuit).

Sweet Hereafter
3326 SE Belmont St.
A rustic, woodsy bar with bites, with a large open seating area in the back, Sweet Hereafter is so cozy we even saw a few people reading (with real books in hand!) at the rather dimly lit bar. The Omission gluten-free pale ale (from local brewmasters the Widmer Brothers) was a good (and strong!) choice here, and if I were to go back I’d definitely try a dessert or entrée, like the health-boosting “Precious Bowl” of coconut kale, black beans, and brown rice.

Wolf and Bear’s
3925 N. Mississippi Ave.

Wolf & Bear'sHead out to Mississippi Avenue for great boutiques, brewpubs, and most importantly, Wolf and Bear’s, a modest food stand tucked away behind a foliage-covered fence. Here you’ll find food you’ll want to scarf down with the animalistic intensity its name suggests. This is some of the best Middle Eastern cuisine this side of the Mississippi (River, that is) and the dinner bill for two people came out to a mere $17, two 12oz Lion Heart Kombuchas (one a combo of lemonade and Kombucha) included. Get the $7 Sabich (the Iraqi-Jewish traditional breakfast) or for smaller appetites go for the Lil’ Critter with a side of falafel. The pita wraps are soft, fresh, and warm and sturdy enough to absorb all the nutrition inside. Don’t forget the hot sauce, more freshly herbaceous than tongue-waggingly hot. Heck, stop here and you may end up in a Portlandia episode. Rumor was they were filming there just hours before we discovered the spot.

Petite Provence

Petite Provence Alberta
1824 NE Alberta St.
For a slice of France, hit up Petite Provence (there are a few locations throughout PDX). Rich pastries and desserts will lure you in, but the dinner menu offers a great array of “petite entrees” perfect for tapas-style sharing.

Cheryl’s on 12th
1135 SW Washington Street
With a more upscale diner feel, this downtown spot is ideal for brunch (it’s also a market and bakery). Our waitress was sweet and attentive, and the housemade granola with Greek yogurt and fresh berries is a top-notch choice.

Voodoo Doughnut & Stumptown Coffee
22 SW 3rd Ave. / 128 SW 3rd Ave

VoodooThe talk of the town (and the Food Network), Voodoo Doughnut was our first stop from the airport, a perfect late breakfast to kick off our culinary tour through Portland. Situated in the grungier bowels of Chinatown, directly across the street from Dante’s, the building with KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD plastered on its side (apt scenery while chowing down on say, the “Cock-N-Balls” doughnut), Voodoo has become the Voodoo Boxtourist destination of downtown. Expect a wait of at least 30 minutes. Grab a cup of coffee at Portland’s revered Stumptown Coffee Roasters just down the street on 3rd Avenue to wire up before your sugar rush. Once reaching the inside, it’s a bit intimidating – and hypnotizing, watching the doughnuts swivel around in their glass-encased showcase tube – as you stare up at the big board of endless possibilities, from oreo-crumbled to cereal-encrusted to cream-filled to vegan. We recommend the Portland Cream, Bacon Maple Bar, or Vegan Coconut.


Bungee Jumping (One hour from Portland)
NE Healy Rd. and NE Belvins Rd.
Amboy, WA 98601

bungeecollageYep, that’s us, just jumping 20 stories off of a bridge. In the rain. One of the few bungee spots in the U.S. — and just one hour north of Portland (and near Mt. St. Helens for another road trip hotspot) — this Pacific Northwest bridge is used specifically for scaring the bejeezus out of anyone who dares step into a harness. It’s a great first jump for anyone who hasn’t bungee’d before and the guys of have enough jovial death jokes to keep you on edge as you reach the edge. And, yes, it’s much scarier, ballsier, and more exhilarating than skydiving.

Moulton Falls Regional Park
Yacolt, WA

2013-08-25 17.33.03Near Vancouver, Washington, just across the border — and on the way to bungeeing or Mt. St. Helens — this fertile area offers hiking and biking trails along the crystal-clear Lewis River. Watch for the (small) waterfall just to the right of the main parking area.

International Rose Test Garden
850 SW Rose Garden Way

International Rose Test GardenWe took our pink Voodoo Doughnut box (“Good things come in pink boxes”) a few miles west to Washington Park, home to Portland’s International Rose Test Garden. A picnic of doughnuts made under the suggestive slogan of “The magic is in the Hole!” seemed somewhat poetic among the fields of precious, pristine roses. Portland takes its roses quite seriously (you’ll see references to them all over the city), and on these “testing grounds” you’ll find over 500 some varieties. There’s even a miniature rose section and a Shakespeare one, which was, as the garden’s website says, “originally designed to include only herbs, trees and flowers mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.” After strolling through the test gardens, you can also stroll through the Portland Japanese Garden (for an admission price).


Hotel Modera
515 SW Clay St.

Hotel ModeraThis self-proclaimed luxury boutique hotel in the heart of downtown is indeed luxurious. The location is ideal, close to the Portland Saturday Market and the Pearl District, with easy access to all the bridges. The decor is sleek and modern, but not at all stuffy. Our king-sized bed was a little too comfortable, lined with a pillow-top mattress and smooth designer linens. The marbled bathroom adds another palatial touch and we couldn’t get enough of the Tarocco bath products, made with Italian blood oranges and olive oil. There’s also a great outdoor seating area adjacent to the hotel’s restaurant. It’s a great place to chat, relax, read, or strategize the day’s plans.



Trip Daze: Palm Springs & Joshua Tree

*This was originally posted on my leisurely updated travel, culture + humor blog, Battle Mountain.*

I vowed to make 2012 a year to fully embrace my endless wanderlust. I think I did a pretty decent job. Here, I’ll attempt to prove just that. I’ll be running down my top travel adventures of 2012 … slowly but surely. In no particular order, here’s Vol. II, a trek south and inland to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree Lean

There’s something mystical yet menacing about the desert. Maybe it’s all that dry air sucking out all the bullshit. Bullshit can’t survive in the desert — the sun would rot it too quickly, or, on a chilly night, the wind would just carry it all the way to, well, a place like L.A.

Maybe this sort of non-BS realness makes a place like the Mojave Desert especially eerie to us modern-day Internet dwellers. It forces us to rely on our own innate capacities and survival instincts (because once you reach the inner depths of Joshua Tree National Park, for example, that smartphone ain’t so smart anymore). And for that reason, Southern California’s Coachella Valley is a prime place to escape. And I’m not talking about to the music festival (been there. done that.) or the resorts or the spas or the outlet malls.

Desert Landscapes

Our trip to Palm Springs began, like most people, in L.A. Our drive involved a stop at Flappy Jack’s Pancake House (get the banana nut or multi-grain flapjacks!) on the tip of Route 66. Fully carb-fueled, we weaved our way through windmill-lined lanes; these mesmerizing roadside attractions almost immediately spin your mind into a more relaxed state.

Windmills and a Lone Joshua

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