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Portland Paradise – Day 4

Our last morning in Portland, EZ and I strolled through the lovely neighborhood of the Northwest Quadrant and hiked up a steep hill to the historical Pittock Mansion. It was the Tuesday after the Memorial holiday, and everyone was back at work, so the streets were eerily silent. The sun beamed brightly. It was going to be above 90 degrees – a spectacular, sizzling summer day for Portland.

Anna Bananas

Our first stop was Anna Bananas, which bills itself as “The Oldest Café in Northwest Portland.” The café looks like it had been converted from a cute little house. The interior is quaint and homey, and the staff are warm and friendly. EZ and I sat outside on the front porch, given the beautiful weather.

I ordered a South of the Border scramble, which features shredded cheese, tomato, onion, avocado, salsa, and sour cream, and is served with a toasted jalapeno bagel. EZ ordered a coffee, black. We lounged quite comfortably and each enjoyed our orders. Fresh and flavorful. In the background, salsa music played lazily, drowsily. It was such a peaceful, indulgent morning in a peaceful, indulgent neighborhood.

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City Market

I wanted to buy a few culinary souvenirs for my family. So after brunch, EZ and I walked a few blocks to City Market, a market offering high-quality grocery items, including notable cheese, seafood, and butcher counters as well as beautiful floral assortments. It was very pleasant to wander up and down the aisles and pore over the intriguing specialty goods. I found a selection of fresh, local products. After much consideration, I settled upon pumpkin butter, Bee Local Portland farmland honey, and gourmet chocolate bars.

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Pittock Mansion

Next came the hardest part: the walk to Pittock Mansion. Or should I say, climb? Our maps app indicated that the walk to the mansion was about 1.7 miles. We had walked farther during our time in Portland, so it didn’t seem like a big deal. But what we didn’t realize was how steep the walk up the hill would be. It was more like a hike.

Once we finally reached the top, panting and sweating in the unexpected heat, we were greeted by a beautiful estate. The mansion, a French Renaissance style chateau built in 1909, was the private home for Henry and Georgiana Pittock. Henry was a publisher and business tycoon, while his wife Georgiana was a founder and fundraiser for many charities and cultural organizations.

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The mansion was surrounded by gardens and greenery, with a panoramic view of the city below.

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While it was free to ramble the ground, the entry fee is $10 to enter the mansion itself.

The interior of the mansion transports you back in time. Scenes of domestic life are laid out with exquisite detail and remarkable preservation. You can easily imagine Henry pacing in the study, Georgiana sitting at the harp, the children playing in their room, the servants setting the dining table. Perhaps you can even feel their presence.

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Blue Star

EZ and I caught an Uber from Pittock Mansion back into downtown. We only had about an hour before we had to head to airport. And so, hungry from our hike, we decided to grab a bite before collecting our things from the hotel.

First, we went to Blue Star to get me a donut. Now, this isn’t your ordinary donut joint. This place takes its donuts seriously, pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Blue Star offers unique flavors like crème brulée, PB&J with jalapeno jelly, raspberry rosemary buttermilk, and blueberry bourbon basil, among others.

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I ordered the maple bacon donut. I couldn’t understand what was taking so long to receive my order; then I realized that my donut was being handcrafted from scratch. When I finally did have it in my grasp, the donut was soft, oh-so-fresh, sweet, and salty. Above all, tasty.

Impressions of Portland

Too soon, EZ and I were on a plane, headed back to LA.

“How can you leave us on our most beautiful day?” a few different people at the Portland airport had asked. They were very excited about their 90 degree weather.

As the plane took off, we could see snow-capped Mount Hood out the window.

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Settling back into my seat, I reflected on my time in Portland. It had been wonderful. The city had been clean, green, and beautiful, full of delicious food, fun breweries, and inviting shops. Nature beckoned at every corner, with plenty of hikes and gardens and waterfalls within reach. The vibe was laid back and creative. Passions were pursued with vigor, jobs a mere side note.

The only real drawbacks the city had for me were the lack of diversity and the lack of sun in the wintertime. However, as Portland is growing rapidly, particularly as more Californians move up, diversity is also starting to expand. Another point I’ve heard much about is gentrification. But I don’t know enough about Portland’s city planning to understand yet if it’s the bad kind of gentrification or the good kind of gentrification. What is the difference between the bad and good kinds of gentrification, you ask? According to Pete Saunders:

“Nationally, the gentrification debate is defined by the experiences [cities] like New York, San Francisco and Boston. There, the issues are rapidly growing unaffordability, concerns with displacement and growing inequality. But the gentrification debate is quite different in … cities like Philadelphia and Atlanta, where seeking ways to more equitably spread the positive benefits of revitalization might lead such discussions.”

Portland seems fairly thoughtful in the way it has crafted its city over the years, and I hope the city allows its virtues to be accessed and shared by all of its citizens.

In any case, as a visitor, I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated much of what Portland had to offer. And there were still many undiscovered delights I didn’t have time to explore during my stay.

I’ll be back, Portland!

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Portland Paradise – Day 3

Our third day in Portland was a revelation of natural marvels. It was a gorgeous day – blue, sunny skies and mild temperatures. The perfect day for a stroll along the river, a hike to a waterfall, and continued explorations of the culinary scene…starting with breakfast!

Stumptown and Kenny & Zuke’s

Our group wandered the streets of downtown Portland on Memorial Day, in search of a new brunch spot. Unfortunately, many of the recommended restaurants were closed for the holiday. Suddenly, in the distance, we heard the roar of a crowd. What was going on? Riots? A Trump rally?

A marathon. As we approached the noise, we saw a cluster of numbered runners set off from a starting line, sprinting down a roped-off, empty street as onlookers cheered from the sidelines. But wait, something was wrong…a horn sounded, and the runners halted in their tracks, turned around, and returned to the starting line.

“I’m going to try to look a little more pumped in this one,” said one runner.

“Can I pass you this time? Just a little bit?” asked another runner.

What was going on?

“Nike,” EZ said, pointing to the Nike banners waving along the race route. It was not a real marathon at all! The “runners” were actors shooting a Nike commercial.

Our group turned around, continuing our search for somewhere to eat. We finally settled on Kenny & Zuke’s, a deli.

While we waited for a table, part of our group popped next door to Stumptown, a highly recommended independent coffee roasting house. EZ’s favorite coffee there was the Stumptown Nitro Cold Brew, which had grown quite famous over the last year. I acknowledged that the smooth, rich flavor had its appeal, but the nitrogen infusion boosted the overall effect to a level that was too strong for my taste.

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Once we were seated at Kenny & Zuke’s, our group looked over the menu. It seemed to offer standard deli fare, with some modern twists. Challah French toast, anyone?

I ordered a bagel and lox plate that I polished off with no problem. It was tasty, but not anything particularly new or creative.

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KO, sitting next to me, had ordered biscuits and pastrami gravy, which looked rather rich and heavy. She kept rescuing pieces of pastrami that were drowning in the gravy, and placed them in the safety of her mouth. She needed some help from the others to finish off the rest of the plate.

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After brunch, EZ and I said our goodbyes to the rest of the crew. GS and NR were flying out that afternoon, while KB and KO were parting ways for their own adventures.

Then EZ and I set off to the riverfront to bide our time as we waited for his Portland friends, DG and PK, to pick us up for our trip to the waterfall and gorge.

Willamette River

As we approached the Willamette riverfront, we noticed a buzz of activity and flashes of color: a carnival.

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We skirted around the carnival to the north until we neared the bridge, from which we could look out onto the water.

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After gazing upon the boats and jetskis that skidded across the river, EZ and I returned from the bridge and crossed the railroad tracks so that we could walk along the waterfront.

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On this side of the tracks stood a number of darling little apartments with their own private beaches. We walked along the path, admiring the dogwood trees overflowing with starry white flowers.

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The Falls and Oneonta Gorge

Soon, DG and PK arrived to pick us up and whisk us away for our hike just outside of Portland. The parking lot was packed, but DG managed to find a spot. We walked up a path crowded with tourists to Multnomah Falls, which the rest of our crew had visited the day before.

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Though beautiful, it was hard to soak in the sight with all the hustle and bustle of tourists around us. Luckily, this waterfall was not our final destination…an even more spectacular scene lay ahead.

DG led us down another crowded trail, but we soon reached a fork in the path. We took the trail less traveled, and found ourselves quite alone. It was peaceful in the woods, although we could hear cars passing by on the adjacent highway. But I was still enchanted by the verdant overgrowth of ferns, fronds, and moss. After a while, we verged to the right, leaving the sounds of the highway behind us.

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Finally, we found what we were seeking: Oneonta Gorge.

“You will get wet,” DG told us. And then he left us to traverse the gorge ourselves. He wanted to sprint back to the car and drive it up near the head of the gorge, so that we wouldn’t have a long, wet hike back to the car after our expedition.

PK, EZ, and I rolled up our cuffs and forged ahead, ankle deep in piercing cold water. Then shin deep. Then knee deep.

When possible, we stepped on rocks to avoid the water. But some of the rocks were slippery and dangerous; this trek was a perilous one. I slipped once when trying to step from rock to rock, and I have a few cuts on my shin to show for it.

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We clambered over a jumble of wood and treaded farther into the gorge. On either side of us, a sheer wall of brilliant green rose to the sky like emerald parapets. The burble of running water was the only sound that broke the silence. I felt awed by the saturation of natural beauty surrounding me.

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Then came the drop. At first, we tried to cling to the craggy rocks on the side as much as possible, but soon the way grew slippery and we could cling no more. We dropped like stones into the water, now chest-deep. It was like being plunged into an ice bath. Slowly, shivering, we waded through the water farther and farther into the gorge, until at last – Lower Onetona Falls.

Cascading down the mossy walls of the ravine and into the dark jade pool below, a diamond-white waterfall. Its beauty took my breath away.

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Other than the chattering of the falls, all was still. In the distance, a bird called.

I had never expected to stumble upon such splendor in Oregon. In the tropical islands of Hawaii or Sri Lanka, yes. But not so close to the metropolitan area of downtown Portland. EZ and I sloshed through the ice-cold water, giddy, and felt the rush of air and chilly spray ushered our way by the falls. We relished in the magnificent spectacle for a few more minutes as PK looked on. Then, when we could dawdle no longer, we all turned back.

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Teoete

Later that night, EZ and I met up with my friend CP at Teote, a Latin American restaurant in the Northeast Quadrant. The building was bright blue with red accents, but the first floor seemed fairly simple, with a wooden interior.

“Let’s sit upstairs,” CP advised.

A bar greeted us at the top of the stairs, lit by strings of crimson and gold bulbs and an assortment of hanging lanterns. The second floor felt warm, colorful, and eclectic all at once. Medieval chandeliers dropped down from the center of the ceiling, between each wooden beam. Modern and traditional artwork with a Latin American flavor adorned the walls. The vibe felt similar to that of Por Que No?, except less chaotic and more thoughtful.

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CP directed us to the outdoor patio, a covered area with a dazzling art centerpiece: a metallic blue and purple heart structure dangling above a hypnotic fire pit.

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I ordered a mole arepa, which featured Painted Hills shredded brisket cooked slowly in homemade mole sauce, topped with pickled onions, crema, queso fresco, and cilantro. The meat and other ingredients were flavorful, but the fresh, textured arepa bread elevated my meal to a whole other level.

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CP, who had moved to Portland a few years ago for grad school, does educational research to support school reform. It was clear that she was very passionate about her research. We had a fascinating conversation about the modern burdens of being a teacher, along with other obstacles to reforming schools.

After dinner, we said our goodbyes. But EZ and I had until the next afternoon to say goodbye to Portland as a whole…

Continue reading: Portland – Day 4…the final day!

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Portland Paradise – Day 2

After a fantastic first day in Portland, I was excited to see what other charms the city had to offer. EZ and I decided to kick off the second day by walking to a highly recommended rose garden. The rest of the crew had woken up early to check out a waterfall just outside of town, but EZ and I decided to visit that particular wonder later in the afternoon the next day.

So we set off, just the two of us, into the streets of Portland. It was mid-morning on a Sunday, but the city was empty. No lines queued up at the local brunch spots, no shoppers getting an early start to their day. Apparently, Portland is a city that wakes up late.

The walk to the rose garden was about 1.5 miles, but I didn’t mind. There was plenty to look at. We spotted some more public art, including a hill of bicycles crowned with a golden bike, as well as a massive grinning mask in front of the soccer stadium.

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Finally, we approached Washington Park, entering a wooded area lush with green. The sprawling park encompasses a variety of attractions, including a holocaust memorial, the rose garden, a Japanese garden, a zoo, a playground, a museum, an arboretum, a Vietnam veteran’s memorial, and a railway. However, EZ and I only visited a select few.

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Oregon Holocaust Memorial

When we visited Paris last year, EZ and I had stumbled upon a powerful Holocaust memorial that evoked confinement and captivity. The Oregon Holocaust Memorial, while equally emotional, was permeated by a very different aura. Instead of the enclosure of a barred grotto, this memorial was placed under the guardianship of towering trees. Here, it felt peaceful. Surrounded by beauty. But also, sadness. A deep quiet vibrated with the memory of devastation.

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A cobblestone path led to a curved wall of inscriptions. But along the path, bronze objects: a briefcase here, a teddy bear there, a pair of spectacles left behind. They were strewn helter-skelter, symbols of loss, of daily life gone horribly wrong.

We walked slowly down the path, each object searing itself into our minds. Conjuring images of people, of mothers and fathers and children. The wall is full of inscriptions.

On the front side, a history of the Holocaust, accompanied by heart-rending quotations from survivors. A reminder of the human capacity for evil. A tribute to the human capacity for survival.

On the back side, names of those who died in the concentration camps, and names of their kin in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Acknowledgements of non-Jews who were also persecuted by the Nazis – the Romanis, the Slavs, the homosexuals, the disabled…among others. A final inscription – a commentary on the vast range of humanity, a plea appealing to the goodness within every individual.

Out of respect, I did not take photographs within the memorial…except for one. These words left a mark on me, and I felt compelled to share them.

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Misty-eyed and achey-hearted, we walked back across the path.

International Rose Test Garden

Wandering through the greenery, we soon came upon The International Rose Test Garden, and a breeze carried the sweet, floral scent to us like a gift. It was a balm for the soul. Before us lay thousands of beautiful roses. Roses of every hue, size, and type. We strolled up and down rows and rows of lovely, lavish roses.

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In addition to being a free, gorgeous attraction, the International Rose Test Garden receives new rose cultivars from all over the world and tests them for color, fragrance, and resistance to disease, among other characteristics. Awards are issued to roses of merit. No wonder Portland is known as the City of Roses.

Once we’d had our fill of flowers, EZ and I continued our walk through Washington Park. We passed a large, whimsical playground for children and a small museum of natural artifacts. Speaking of natural artifacts, we also spotted a banana slug at our feet.

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After a bit, we decided to follow a small trail that caught our eye. Here, minutes from downtown Portland, we felt lost in some deep, mystical forest. Dense and verdant, it was unlike any hike we had been on in California.

“I’m pretty sure this is where most of those X-files episodes were shot,” I said.

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The trail soon ended, leading us to a green space where children were playing soccer. Since we were growing hungry, we circled back toward downtown. Excited for our next culinary adventure.

Pine State Biscuits and Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider Taproom

EZ’s hankering for fried chicken reasserted itself, while I yearned for brunchy food. After referring to our recommendations from friends, I fell upon an eatery that would satisfy what each of us pined for: Pine State Biscuits.

Since the location downtown was closed, EZ and I hopped on a bus that took us across the river to the Northeast Quadrant of Portland (in case you’re unfamiliar with the lay of the land, as we were, Portland is divided into quadrants, with the Wilammette River splitting the east and west sides of town and Burnside Street splitting the north and south sides of town).  In other words, we departed the downtown area and ventured into more residential territory. Still, many of the residential neighborhoods of Portland include their own walkable strips of food, bars, and shops.

Pine State Biscuits was a small, busy place that shared a location with Sizzle Pie, a pizza joint. As EZ and I put in our orders at the cash register, we noticed that all the seats were occupied. The cashier recommended we take our orders to-go and eat at the nearby ciderhouse. It sounded like a good plan to us, so we sipped on some drinks while waiting for our orders, then took the bags out and around the corner.

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We soon found Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider Taproom. I grabbed myself some cider at the bar, then EZ and I settled into some seats around a cider barrel, opening our takeout containers with grumbling stomachs and simmering anticipation.

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I didn’t care that our dishes were not as visually appealing tucked into the takeout containers as they might have been if artfully displayed on actual plates. Our food was amazing. I had ordered The Chatfield, which is a biscuit sandwich with crispy fried chicken, bacon, and cheese, topped with sweet apple butter. EZ had ordered the McIsley, which is a biscuit sandwich with crispy fried chicken, pickles, mustard (oozing with whole mustard seeds), and honey. Buttery, sweet and savory goodness.

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For good measure, we had also gotten fried green tomatoes and Cajun fries. I swear, the fried green tomatoes were a revelation! Can we just replace all French fries with fried green tomatoes, please?!

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I washed down all my comfort food with Revival, a sweet, cold cider that hit the spot. After so much cider, my bladder soon grew full. EZ told me to take a closer look at the cider tanks as I made my way across the cidery and to the restroom. And what did I see? Each tank had been named after a different god. Alas, I had been drinking an elixir of the gods!

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Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

We ambled through the beautiful neighborhood of the Northeast Quadrant, walking off our heavy meal. The houses were lovely – lots of Craftsman homes, with no two alike. This was no cookie-cutter tract development. This place had character.

The front yards burgeoned and bloomed – fronds, foliage, and flowers spilled over onto sidewalks. Along the curb patch in front of one house, someone had created a whimsical little fairy house at the mossy base of a tree.

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We also passed Portland’s White House, a bed and breakfast in the Historic Irvington District that was built as a Greek Revival Mansion in 1911.

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Fire on the Mountain

After exploring the neighborhood for a while, EZ’s friend DG picked us up in his car and took us to Fire on the Mountain, where GS, NR, KB, and KO would soon meet up with us. The place was casual, with a relaxed, slightly funky vibe and a burnt orange palette. Fire on the Mountain is notorious for its chicken wings and wide assortment of homemade sauces, along with its variety of fried munchies. However, EZ, DG, and I just ordered some beers. I was still quite full from my biscuity brunch.

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We settled into a booth, and DG, who had lived in Portland for a few years, explained that he went to dental school in the city. He’d recently been on a group trip to Thailand where he provided dental care for poor villagers. While school now took up most of DG’s time, with no other passionate pursuit like PK’s woodworking, he seemed to be happy studying and living in Portland.

Soon, we were joined by KB and KO, along with NR and GS, who had returned from the waterfall. Although they enjoyed the excursion, they seemed a bit tired from the hike before the hike…that is, the hike up a hill to the house that provided their GetAround (rentable car from fellow consumers via an app). Needless to say, they were hungry. They ordered food and drinks, including a dish of deep-fried Oreos that I sampled. They tasted a bit like donut holes with classic Oreo cores…yummy.

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My appetite was beginning to return. After they’d had their fill of fried food, our crew (minus DG) headed to ¿Por Qué No? Taqueria to partake in tacos. Why not, right?

It was an enchanting little teal blue building adorned with various decorative artifacts, and the décor only got better inside. Brick, teal, and red walls were accented by a haphazard hodgepodge of art and ornamentation. The wooden beams above supported an array of lanterns, colored strings of light, and a disco ball. Shelving displayed colorful knick knacks, plants, and bottles. All in all, it was a vibrant and festive atmosphere.

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As a SoCal native, I felt skeptical of Portland’s tacos. But I need not have worried; I tucked into my juicy Barbacoa as ravenously as I would a tasty taco from LA’s finest taco trucks and taquerias.

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Ruby Jewel

What luck! Just next door to the taqueria was Ruby Jewel, an ice cream parlor. While EZ remained outside, chatting with an old man about the good old days (sometimes I’m convinced that EZ is an old man on the inside), the rest of us popped in for a sweet treat.

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The others sampled a flight of ice creams, but I contented myself with an ice cream sandwich of dark chocolate cookies paired with mint ice cream. It was quite refreshing, although the cookie was a bit crunchier than I expected.

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Our group posed for a Polaroid that would be proudly displayed on Ruby Jewel’s hall of fame.

Northwest Neighborhood

The six of us crammed into the GetAround car. We dropped KB and KO off downtown, the continued onward to drop off the car with its rightful owner. As it happened, the rightful owner lived at the top of a hill (which KO had bemoaned earlier, as this resulted in the hike to pick up the car before the actual hike to the falls). Luckily, we drove up the hill to drop off the car, leaving a downward slope back toward downtown.

The walk down the hill took us through wealthy neighborhoods with big, gorgeous houses, blossoming dogwood trees, and picturesque gardens. At one point, a clearing between homes revealed a stunning view of downtown.

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Departure

Later that evening, after napping and freshening up at the hotel, our crew departed for Departure, a slightly upscale Asian fusion restaurant that seemed to have some kind of airport theme. At least, that’s what I gathered from the name and the modern octagonal entryway that led into the sleek interior.

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Around us, I noticed that many girls were wearing clubby dresses. It was the most dressed up I had seen girls in Portland thus far. Although we had made a reservation, the hostess couldn’t find us a seat for a while. She seemed astonished that our entire party had actually arrived, and on time at that. So to the rooftop patio we went, grabbing some drinks at the bar and taking in the illuminated Portland skyline. It as a nice view, but not quite as interesting as the downtown LA skyline, or what I imagine the NY skyline is like.

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Unfortunately, the rooftop happened to be cold and windy that night. Our group gathered around a heat lamp. On a bench nearby, a pair seemed to be on a first date. For some reason, a foreign flag was propped up on their table.

Finally, our table was ready indoors. We sat in the large booth and ordered a number of small plates to share from the late night menu, since dinner was no longer being served. Among our selections were skirt steak skewers with garlic and soy, grilled prawns with chili and lime, edamame, and spicy tuna bowl with avocado and white ponzu. The food was all delicious, but the portions were very small, while our appetites were large.

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To remedy this, after departing Departure, we stopped in at another bar for a couple more drinks and then tracked down some pizza at Sizzle Pie. The pizza at Sizzle Pie was quite good…thin and crispy on the bottom, juicy and flavorful on the top. However, since our whole group ordered by the slice based on the slices available in the glass display case, we were confused as to why we didn’t receive our slices when we paid up front. Instead, we had to sit at a table and wait 15 more minutes for our numbers to be called before we could retrieve the slices that had been right before our eyes.

Still, by the end of the meal, our stomachs had been satiated and our eyelids began to droop with fatigue. The supernaturally comfortable beds of our hotel beckoned…

Continue reading:  Portland – Day 3!

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Portland Paradise – Day 1

Ah, Portland! The name implies a land of ports, evoking images of water and trade. But really, it is a paradise of passionate pursuits, where the entire city feels like a tastefully handcrafted, small-batch, local concoction.

The food is divine. The beards brim with personality. The streets are tree-lined and pristine. The flora flourishes with a lushness that takes your breath away. The storefronts beckon with charms ranging from quaint to hipster to eccentric.

In other words, Portland pays attention to detail. Every manifestation of the city is an art, thoughtfully conceived and executed. When I set foot in the city for the first time, a little voice inside my head wondered, “It seems almost too perfect…what’s the catch? Where’s the secret, dark underbelly?”

But alas, I am getting ahead of myself. Just as I documented my travels to Maui in Hawaii and Yellowstone in Wyoming, I shall continue to share my travels throughout the U.S. with this record of my visit to Portland, Oregon, complete with linked food and site recommendations.

Lardo

EZ and I were picked up at the airport by EZ’s friend PK, who was barefoot. I’m not sure if he was just messing with us, or if his barefootedness was emblematic of the Portland spirit. Either way, it left an impression. After checking into our hotel, the first thing EZ and I did was join PK for lunch at Lardo, since we were as ravenous as wolves. Wolves tend to have a taste for little piggies, so it was fitting that we ended up at a sandwich joint where pork infused much of the menu (EZ did find a non-pork option, however, as he doesn’t eat pork. Bad wolf!).

I ordered the Bronx Bomber, which included shaved beef, provolone, salami, griddled onions, mayo, and pickled peppers (pictured below). Let me tell you – it was the bomb. Bursts of flavor exploded in my mouth with every bite, and I surrendered to them wholeheartedly. One of the best sandwiches I’ve had, no joke.

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As we ate, PK told us about his time living in Portland and some of the quirks of local society. For one, he mentioned that it was almost taboo to ask somebody what they do for a living. Instead, it was more appropriate to ask people what they do for fun, or what their passion is. Materialism and status are apparently not big values in Portland; in fact, there are often frowned upon.

According to PK, many Portlandians work however they can to pay the bills – whether as a bartender, barista, or engineer – but focus their lives on their passions. PK’s particular passion happens to be woodworking (you can check out some of his beautiful creations here).

Of course, there are also people whose jobs coincide with their passions. I found the passion-centric nature of Portland very interesting. In LA, when I meet new people, it’s customary to ask each other two main starter questions: What do you do? Where do you live? In LA, your profession and neighborhood are what local society has deemed important starting points for getting to know someone. In Portland, they jump right to the deep stuff.

The Streets

After lunch, PK left EZ and me to our own devices, and we wandered through the downtown area. One of the first things I noticed about Portland was how clean it was. As a Valley Girl who often spends her time gallivanting through the various neighborhoods of LA, I was astounded by the lack of litter and grime in the streets of Portland. And, unlike downtown LA, the stench of urine is startlingly absent from downtown Portland. It’s not that there aren’t any homeless people in Portland – in fact, I met quite a few. But somehow all the Portlandians, homeless included, seem to take pride in their city and make efforts to keep it clean. Or perhaps the city just happens to have stellar maintenance/sanitation departments? Hard to say…

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I also noticed that downtown Portland boasted more greenery, wider pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, and more bike paths compared to LA – all of which make it quite pleasant to traverse the city by foot or by bike. There are also a number of parks and plazas where children frolic about. EZ and I walked through a plaza to the music of violins, perusing the bouquets at a nearby flower stand and admiring the detailing on the Benson Bubbler water fountains. However, EZ noted that the Benson Bubblers, lovely though they are, waste ridiculous amounts of water.

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EZ and I also appreciated all the awesome street art throughout the city. EZ’s favorite was the ghostly girl pictured below on the left-hand building:  A lady in white, her back to the viewer, a long braid trailing down her spine…

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I’m a sucker for colorful, whimsical designs.

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Luckily we planned our visit in the summer, so we enjoyed our walk in beautiful weather, sunny yet crisp. But PK had warned us that in the winter, the sun may never be seen –perpetually shrouded by clouds – and the dark of night advances as early as 4:00 p.m.

Food Carts

At the food carts, EZ and I met up with our friends GS and NR (with whom we traveled last year to Barcelona, where GS proposed to NR), along with their friends KB and KO. The food carts lined the entire block, a “pod” presenting a smorgasbord of cuisines from around the world. We roamed from cart to cart, inhaling the unique aromas of Indian, Thai, Hawaiian, and Polish dishes, among others. EZ and I were still full from Lardo’s, but the rest of the crew enjoyed delicious plates from several different food carts. I treated myself to some Thai iced tea.

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Portland is home to hundreds of food carts/trucks. Unlike many American cities that prohibit or limit food carts, Portland embraces them as an integral part of the local food scene. Food carts are not perceived as competition for restaurants, but as complements. Many of the food carts are operated by immigrants who lack the resources to open their own full-scale restaurants…thus allowing for mobile, global bites for consumers, and an opportunity for immigrants to work toward their American Dream.

Powell’s Books

Later in the day, after getting settled into our hotel, EZ and I explored the glory that is Powell’s City of Books. It is the mecca of manuscripts, the bastion of books. Occupying an entire city block, it is the world’s largest new and used bookstore.

EZ and I threaded through the colorful shelves of the main floor, where a wall behind the cash registers defined the word litmosphere: “1. The vast domain of the world’s readers and writers. 2. A lively literary mood permeating the air.”

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We climbed the stairs and entered the Purple Room, one of nine color-coded rooms. Books, books, everywhere! The Purple Room further divided the subjects of mythology and spirituality into numerous sub-topics. Apparently it’s not enough to find the mythology section; you must locate the appropriate Arthurian or creatures subsection! It’s not enough to find the shelves of spirituality books…you must know specifically which ones pertain to labyrinths and mandalas!

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We browsed the wares in a trance for quite some time before leaving to meet up with the others. EZ purchased a book about Middle Eastern history, as he is wont to do, but I resolved to return another day for further perusal before buying anything.

Parish

EZ and I joined the rest of the crew at Blitz Pearl, where they were watching the NBA finals – Warriors vs. Thunder. It was a fairly standard sports bar, nothing special. EZ and I grabbed some beers and played a few rounds of shuffleboard while the others watched the game, reconvening with them periodically. Finally, EZ declared a hankering for fried chicken, and he and I set off on our mission while the others continued to watch the game.

First, we tried TILT, which had gotten good reviews…but there was a long line out the door. This would not do. After some impromptu yelping, we decided upon Parish. There was no line, and it seemed fairly pleasant and low-key.

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My expectations were not too high, as Yelp rated Parish at 3.5 stars. However, my mind was blown when our golden brown frog legs and fried chicken plate did arrive. The crispy frog legs were beautifully displayed, and they tasted like chicken, only with a richer, more unctuous quality. They paired well with blue cheese dip in the center.

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The fried chicken was some of the best I’d ever had. It was a free-range chicken, in a three-day brine, fried in batter to crunchy perfection. I bit through a light, crispy coating into a flavorful, succulent chicken. Hot, seasoned, textured. I was thoroughly satisfied.  And EZ’s fried chicken craving had been filled…at least for the time being. He would continue to demand fried chicken throughout the rest of the trip.

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As we walked back to Blitz Pearl, we passed an interesting building that looked like a fortress. Upon closer inspection, I found it was the First Regiment Armory, a historic building that once housed the Oregon National Guard. It is now the home of Gerding Theater.

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EZ and I rejoined our crew at Blitz Pearl at precisely the right time. The game was in the final quarter, and the Warriors were down. The stands, a solid block of blue jerseys, seemed disheartened.

As our crew consists of Californians, with EZ originally from Oakland and the rest (other than myself) from the Bay Area, we were rooting for the Warriors. And the Warriors did not disappoint. The last quarter pulsed with excitement –surprising three-pointers and last-minute shots pulled the Warriors ahead just as the game was drawing to a close. The bar erupted into cheers.

On that happy note, we decided that celebratory drinks were in order. To the breweries!

Breweries

Our first stop was Fat Head’s Brewery, a colorful and lively spot whose logo is the head of a jolly, plump man with cool shades and a Charlie Chaplin mustache. We shared a flight of beers, sampling a strange assortment of brews: Bumble Berry Honey Blueberry Ale (I liked this one – it tasted like blueberry, and included an actual blueberry at the bottom…although at first it looked like a strange turd), Bean Me Up Imperial Coffee Stout (this tasted like coffee and had a smooth finish), Goggle Fogger German-Style Hefe-Weizen (this tasted like damp farts…not too pleasant!), White Peach Saison (light and slightly acidic), and Breakfast of Hopions (too hoppy for my taste). EZ and I were still full from our frog and chicken dinner, but the others ordered some appetizers that they enjoyed, including buffalo cauliflower.

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Our next stop was 10 Barrel, which had a fun, relaxed vibe. The brewery included a cool rooftop patio, but we ended up being seated downstairs, near the brew tanks. We could see a bubbling broth of yeast spilling into a bucket from one of the tanks. It kept throbbing and pulsing like some live thing, a radioactive swamp monster.

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We decided to forgo the flight this time – we didn’t want to risk any more outlandish flavors – and ordered our own brewskies. We also shared a couple appetizers that were quite delish:  1. Crispy Brussel sprouts with bacon, lemon, Cajun spice, and harrisa aioli. 2. Fresh Penn Cove mussels with house-made sausage, Sinistor Black Ale, green onions, and French fries. I particularly enjoyed dipping the fries into the mussel juice and spearing some sausage onto my fork for good measure…it made for a wonderful, savory bite.

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After 10 Barrel, our group was spent for the night. But the next day would bring more local delights.

Continue reading: Portland Paradise – Day 2!

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Hollywood)

 

A few weeks ago, something glorious transpired in my ordinary little muggle realm:  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in Universal Studios, Hollywood.  As an avid fan of the Harry Potter books and films, I was thrilled. Finally, a muggle like myself could get a taste of the wizarding world without flying across the country (which would require a plane, as I’m not trained to fly a broom…though I’ve tried).

My birthday was yesterday, and my boyfriend’s (EZ) gift to me was a trip to the Wizarding World.  He was like my own personal Hagrid, whisking me away to a place of magic and wonder on my birthday…although instead of turning 11, I was turning 11 + 20. So yesterday, we took the day off work and headed out around 7:00 a.m., since we had early admission tickets (which meant we could enter the Wizarding World at 8:00, an hour before the park officially opened, thus avoiding the crowds).  I donned muggle attire, with wizard accents like the scarlet-and-gold Gryffindor scarf from EZ and the golden snitch charm necklace from my friend. I was ready.

If you have not yet visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in either Orlando or Hollywood, and wish to be surprised by all of its little quirks and revelations when you do visit, then stop reading here. I don’t want to spoil the fun for those who want an unfiltered experience.

The Wizarding World encompasses the village of Hogsmeade and the castle of Hogwarts. The entrance is a stone archway with an iron-wrought sign for Hogsmeade, which warns “Please respect the spell limits.” Just beyond the archway is the quaint, snow-capped village in all its whimsical, wintry splendor.

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Once EZ and I passed through the archway, we were greeted by the train conductor of the Hogwarts Express, which was stopped at the Hogsmeade Station.

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The village itself is comprised of beloved shops and spots like Zonko’s Joke Shop, Honeyduke’s, Ollivanders, The Three Broomsticks, Hog’s Head Pub, Owl Post, Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, Dervish and Banges, and Gladrags Wizardwear, all of which are open to the public, along with closed facades such as Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop, The Magic Neep, Spintwitches, and Tomes and Scrolls.

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The whimsical details are well executed. Zonko’s boasts an array of quirky, nostalgic joke products, novelty items, and toys – with random products whirring and buzzing willy nilly for an authentic splash of pandemonium. Honeyduke’s is a candy lover’s dream, with gorgeous displays of sweets in every color of the rainbow, not to mention wizard favorites like Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans, Chocolate Frogs, and exploding bonbons, among others.  Galloping gargoyles!

The Owl Post is stocked with plush owl toys, some of which hoot and turn as you walk in, along with stationary, quills, and other owlish goodies.  Tourists can send letters from here with a Hogsmeade postmark (although muggle laws likely prohibit the use of owl messengers to deliver them).

Dervish and Banges purveys quidditch and Hogwarts uniforms, Gladrags offers fine wizarding garments, and Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment sells wizarding wares such as hourglasses, crystal balls, and other trinkets and treasures.

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But of course I’ve saved the best shop for last: Ollivanders.  The line for the “Wand Experience” was negligible, so EZ and I were clustered together with a small group of people and ushered into the dusky foyer of the wand shop. Then, a trick panel of shelving opened up to reveal an inner chamber.  We moved into this inner chamber, where the wandkeeper (Ollivander’s assistant, ostensibly) stood behind a desk, surrounded by shelves of wand boxes.  The room was lit only by a dim lantern.

Our wandkeeper was a young lady with a British accent. She edified us with a summary of wandlore. Then she surveyed our group and selected from among us the one whom she felt had the most magical energy (to my dismay, the “chosen one” was an 11-year-old girl…why don’t 31-year-old girls get any love?).  The wandkeeper proceeded to help the girl choose a wand…or rather, help the wand choose her.  The first few wands the girl tried wreaked havoc, spurring boxes to pop out of their shelving and creating a general raucous.  “Hmm…I wonder…” the wandkeeper murmured as she selected a certain wand box and blew the dust off its cover.  The girl waved the wand, and the lights glowed brightly, accompanied by an enchanted breeze and magical sounds. The wand had chosen her.

It was a charming experience, and the wandkeeper played her role superbly. She described each wand by its wood, core, and pliability, just like in the books/movies.  The wandkeeper even improvised when a giant moth found its way into the chamber…after trying to shoo the moth away, she declared that animals had an affinity for the girl, and this sentiment was incorporated into the reasons why the final wand had chosen her. The girl was then given the opportunity to buy this special wand…what a sales pitch! How could her parents say no after such a magical experience?

Another door opened on the other side of the dim chamber, leading into the bright main area of the wand shop.  Others could freely enter this area through Wiseacre’s.  I was in wand heaven…I examined the different wands used by each character – from Harry’s trio to the Death Eaters – then perused all the other wand possibilities…birch, rowan, holly, elder, ash, etc.  A sign indicated the different personality traits typically associated with each wood type. EZ claimed that I should be paired with a rowan wand.  I looked up at the description:  “ROWAN – The wood is revered for its powers of protection. Rowan people are full of healing energy and they delight in helping others. Rowan people should use their powerful imagination and resourceful nature to make their dreams come true.”

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While the other Hogsmeade shops are just facades that don’t allow for entry, these facades are still beautifully and thoughtfully detailed.  The lace-trimmed window displays at Madame Puddifoot’s Tea Shop are a pastel profusion of dainty tea cups and flowery confections promising the potential for awkward first dates. The Magic Neep greengrocer window reveals a bountiful harvest of colorful vegetables. Spintwitches exhibits sporting equipment, including a box of quidditch balls where the bludgers are jumping, striving to escape their restraints so they can bludgeon the nearest passerby. Tomes and Scrolls showcases best-selling books, including volumes by the “dreamy” Gilderoy Lockheart with animated photographs. There are also several other window displays.

As EZ and I strolled down a side alley in Hogsmeade, we spotted a child wizard with a wand, standing in front of a window displaying cauldrons. He was holding a map and standing on a metal circle with an inscription. With a wave of his wand, he uttered an incantation. Suddenly, a cauldron began to make bubbling sounds. It seems he was using one of the premium “interactive wands” for sale at Ollivanders (I believe these are the wands offered to the “chosen ones” during Ollivander’s Wand Experience). These wands can be used at designated spots throughout Hogsmeade, as indicated on the map, to cast spells and make magical things happen. Wicked.

The streets of Hogsmeade offered other treats as well. I partook in my first butterbeer, which was available in both ice-blended and original varieties. I opted for the sweeter ice-blended butterbeer and reveled in the caramely-buttery goodness, topped with whipped cream reminiscent of beer froth.

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The Magic Neep cart also offers Gillyweed Water, Pumpkin Juice, and others snacks and beverages. As I sipped at my delightful butterbeer, a flash of motion caught my eye. It was an animated wanted poster for Sirius Black.

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After consuming my butterbeer, my bladder was quite full. I popped into the ladies’ room to relieve myself, and was met with the wailing, gurgling sounds of Moaning Myrtle, the quirky ghost that haunts the toilets.

Finally, having exhausted the marvels of the village, EZ and I made our way towards Hogwarts: an impressive, majestic castle bordered by trees hinting at a forest. In the middle of a roped-off section where the lines were supposed to queue (once the masses arrived) perched the battered remains of the Weasleys’ flying Ford Anglia…presumably after having crashed from a particularly wonky flight.

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EZ and I admired the castle from different angles, then found ourselves in a corner of Hogwarts that housed Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods. We explored this dim cavern of magical creatures, Marauder’s maps, Wizard’s Chess, and other wizarding novelties. My heart nearly broke when I noticed a group of sad Dobbys, all in a row. I immediately took one into my arms. We were also besieged by a hoard of pesky pixies. Pixies are the worst.

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After we’d had our fill, EZ and I left the magical creatures behind and strode through Hogwarts’ main entrance to experience the Forbidden Journey ride. The line was only about 5 to 10 minutes long, but I didn’t mind the wait; all of the waiting areas of the castle had been programmed with magical detailing so that our movement through the lines was more like a tour through the castle. Certain rooms housed paintings that spoke and moved; their banter was actually quite amusing. Some of the paintings made fun of us muggles. Another room looked into Dumbledore’s office with all of its curiosities, complete with a projection of Dumbledore speaking to us from his balcony. In what appeared to be a Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, Harry, Hermione, and Ron appeared and attempted to prepare us for what lay ahead. One chamber displayed The Daily Prophet with headlines about quidditch matches and animated photographs. The room closest to the ride held paintings of witches and wizards who attempted to further prepare us muggles.

As we approached the ride itself, an employee saw EZ checking his phone. “What’s that?” the employee asked with a befuddled expression. It took me a second to realize that he didn’t mean anything specific on the phone; he meant the phone itself.

“A smartphone…muggle technology,” I answered.

“Can I have it?” the wizard employee asked.

“We’ll trade you for your wand,” I offered, though EZ didn’t seem pleased with this arrangement.

“Definitely!” the wizard employee said.  But we moved along in the line, past his post, before the trade could take place.

Finally, EZ and I were secured into the seats of the ride, 3D glasses perched on our noses. And then the ride was off, jerking this way and that like a cluster of faulty brooms, following Harry Potter himself as he and his friends directed us up into the air and around the grounds. The ride was a wonderful combination of physical figures and 3D visions coordinated with the movements of the seats for a life-like experience. We encountered dragons, dementors, and deranged quidditch players. We swooped and spun and juddered and turned. After our wild romp, Harry Potter guided us back into the safety of the castle. As some muggles say, it was a rollicking good time.

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After the thrill of the Forbidden Journey, EZ and I hopped on the Flight of the Hippogriff, which was a fairly tame and short ride intended for small children. But it did feature a cool-looking life-sized animatronic hippogriff. And again, no line.

We decided to cap our visit to Hogsmeade with a drink. First we popped into The Three Broomsticks, but it was crowded with families ordering a traditional English breakfast (which didn’t sound appealing). So instead, we headed inside Hog’s Head Pub.

“IDs, please,” said the bartender, a witch. As she examined our IDs, a puzzled expression crossed her face. “That’s sooo weird…”

“What?” we asked.

“The pictures don’t move!” she said, shaking her head and returning the IDs to us. “Muggles.”

As the bartender poured our drinks, a giant hog’s head mounted on the wall behind her grunted and looked from side to side.

“Does it do that all day?” EZ asked.

“Oh yeah,” replied the bartender. “He snorts, he grunts, he sings, he steals my drinks. So annoying.”

We cast one last look at the hog’s head, along with the shrunken heads next to it, then made our way to the outdoor patio, which was empty and sundrenched. By now, we could see a long line queued around the back of Ollivander’s waiting for the Wand Experience. Sipping our beers, we recapped and judged our time at the Wizarding World. All in all, it had been a truly magical morning, and the short lines made it stress-free to boot. My only wish would be….more. Not that the Wizarding World had been lacking in anything particular; I just always want more when it comes to Harry Potter. More books, more movies, more magic. The end is always such a sorrow.

As we exited the pub, we were greeted by the sound of throaty music. Following our ears, we arrived at an outdoor stage in the middle of the village, where the Hogwarts student choir was performing with their toads. Merlin’s beard, those toads were ugly! But the music was divine.

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It was a sweet sendoff from the magical realm.

EZ and I spent the afternoon enjoying most of the remaining rides and attractions at Universal Studios, since we were lucky enough to keep running into minimal lines. But the highlight had definitely been the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Perhaps someday I will return, not as a muggle, but as a witch. I may be 31, but I’m still holding out for my Hogwarts admission letter.

Golden dog, golden leaves
Blazing through the gloomy drizzle
volunteer

Volunteer Resolution

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This housing project was once known for gangs, but I honestly don’t see that. I see loving families struggling to find a better life.

Two years ago, I was ready for a positive change and made a New Year’s resolution to volunteer.

When I started tutoring kids here, I found a sixth grader reading at a first-grade level; another didn’t know how to multiply. One discouraged girl said about her future, ‘There’s always McDonalds.’

But no one’s beyond help. They just need a little encouragement. We teach them never to be ashamed and that every problem can be broken down. Many don’t recognize their own talents.

When the lightbulb goes on in their heads, I get a burst of energy. I see progress in tiny steps, the seeds of self confidence, something I hope they’ll carry for life.

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Learn more about the Let’s Read program in Pueblo Del Rio at https://www.gofundme.com/PuebloLetsRead

Are you in the L.A. area and interested in volunteering? Get involved at http://www.laworks.com/