What To See And Do With Kids: Portland

Hello, friends! It’s been awhile. Between months of terrible weather (Hello, winter in Seattle.) and me endlessly trying to escape it, I haven’t made much time for writing lately. Spring is finally here, though–and with no more snow to shovel, I have a renewed desire to get back to writing. So let’s get this party started, shall we?!

I just mentioned that I spent most of the past few months trying to escape the winter weather, and I wasn’t kidding. In the last 5 months I’ve been to Hawaii, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and Portland…and those are just the destinations that took more than 1 tank of gas to reach. Now that I’m settling down from my winter wanderings I’ve had some time to reflect–about what I enjoyed about each destination and how I might travel differently next time.

So an idea was born: a blog series about what to see and do in some of my favorite family-friendly travel destinations. Over the next few weeks I’m going to write posts about different locations that I’ve visited with my kids and a few insider tips in case you decide to escape reality with your own brood. First on the docket: Portland, Oregon.

DISCLAIMER: All tips and tricks are based on my limited and biased perspective. I am the self-proclaimed expert here because I have actually been to these places with actual children and have survived to tell the tale. I always love hearing from other experts, though, so if you have your own tips, tricks, or favorite insights to share please leave a comment at the end of the post!

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PORTLAND, OREGON
Over my kids’ spring break last week I took them on a little road trip. We visited my grandma in southern Washington and then went on to Portland, Oregon. I’d been to Portland several times before, but this was my first visit brining my kids. We had a great time and we’ll definitely be back again!

WHERE TO STAY:
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Portland. My priorities for finding this hotel were: 1) Close to all the action downtown 2) Indoor swimming pool and jacuzzi (Because why would you ever stay at a hotel with kids and NOT have a pool???) 3) Not a totally terrible place (remember, I was by myself with 3 kids).
This place checked off everything on my wish list and then some.

Pros: Reasonably priced, free parking (most of the hotels downtown charge around $30/night for parking), free breakfast (Including fresh Cinnabon cinnamon rolls–double bonus!), clean rooms, friendly staff, property is adjacent to two coffee shops and a Jack-in-the-box (I just feel like this is important to mention.), and it has an indoor pool and jacuzzi. The pool was heated to tropical ocean temperatures, which meant we could spend 2 hours swimming off our drive and nobody ever complained about being too cold.

Cons: Not within walking distance of most downtown attractions (I’m looking at you, donuts.), very confusing freeway situation getting to the hotel…but I think that’s Portland’s fault and not the hotel’s.

WHAT TO DO:
OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry): This is a must-do if you travel to Portland with kids. It’s part science museum, part IMAX movie theater mecca (I think they had a dozen different movies showing the day we were there!), part submarine experience (You can go on a real submarine that is submerged in a real river and go on a tour led by a real Navy captain. True story.), and part foodie destination (Seriously–OMSI has the best museum cafe I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a LOT of museum cafes!). Plan on spending a whole day here.

Powell’s City of Books: I don’t even know where to start with Powell’s. When they say that they are a “city of books” that’s not just them trying to be cute. It is literally a city of books. Well, an entire city block, anyway. Powell’s book store fills an entire city block and is something like 25 million stories tall (At least it feels that way when you are in the lowest level–where the children’s books are located–and nature calls so you have to drag 3 children up multiple flights of stairs to find the only public restrooms.). Powell’s carries both new and used books that intermingle harmoniously on the bookshelves: You may find a brand-new copy of Disney’s Peter Pan right next to a vintage original from the turn of the century. And speaking of old, there is a rare books room on the top floor that more mature children with gentler hands and quieter voices than my children may enjoy–some books in the rare books room are nearly 1,000 years old which just makes every book nerd bone in my body tingle.

Portland Aerial Tram: This quick tram ride gives you a great view of the city and, if you catch it on a clear day, the surrounding mountains (I could see all the way from Mt. St. Helens in Washington down to Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood in Oregon on the day we were there). The tram itself is actually a functional way for people to get from downtown (by the river) to the hospital (at the tippy top of a hill). Bring a few bucks for your fare or, if you’re strapped for cash, just schedule a quick procedure at the hospital at the top of the hill and your ride will be free of charge.

Oregon Zoo: I’ve never actually been to the Oregon Zoo, but everyone says that it’s wonderful. I’m adding this to our must-visit list for a future trip.
Bonus: The Oregon Zoo participates in the reciprocal zoo program. If you have a membership to the Woodland Park Zoo (or most other zoos around the country), you can get half-price admission to the Oregon Zoo with your membership. And, as an added bonus, the Oregon Zoo is now a sensory inclusive location–they have backpacks you can check out for free that include items like noise canceling headphones, sunglasses, and fidget tools so that all kids can enjoy their zoo experience.

Multnomah Falls: Located just 30 minutes outside of Portland, this 600-foot waterfall is a breathtaking side trip. There are kid-friendly walking trails around the waterfall and a beautiful viewing bridge. If it’s a hot day you may even get to cool off in the waterfall’s spray–nature’s water park!

And speaking of waterparks…

Wings and Waves Waterpark: Technically this is not in Portland, but it’s just shy of an hour away in McMinnville, OR. And, again, I have not been here before…but I’ve had friends go and was adequately jealous of their Facebook posts about this place so I thought it would be worth including. Wings and Waves is a giant indoor waterpark complete with twisty waterslides, splash pads, and swimming pools (they even have a huge screen above one pool where they show movies). There is also an air museum next door for all of your aviation buffs.

WHAT TO EAT:
I was trying to decide if I should make a separate dining category for Portland or just put all of this under “what to do” because, honestly, most people just go to Portland to eat. Any way you put it, though, food will be a central part of your Portland vacation!

Brunch:
The weekend brunch scene in Portland has a strong game. If you can get your kids to sleep in (ha!) or if you’re ready for second breakfast by 10:30 then I highly recommend a family brunch adventure. There are dozens of restaurants that vie for the top spot in the brunch game: HunnyMilk, Mother’s Bistro, Tasty n Alder, Pine State Biscuits. I could tell you about the melt-in-your-mouth biscuit sandwiches or luxe eggs benny but you might just be better off tasting them for yourself.

Food trucks:
Every few blocks in downtown Portland you will find a brilliant phenomenon known as the food truck pod. In empty parking lots and abandoned spaces you will find clusters of food trucks waiting to offer you fare from every corner of the globe. From curry to crêpes, pierogi to pizza there is something sure to please every palate (even the bland, picky ones typical of the under-four-feet-tall set). Just start walking down any street in the Pearl District downtown and you’re sure to bump into a food truck pod (or twenty) so you can discover your own delicacies.

Dessert (or just whenever):
Portland is known the world over for their donuts, but the locals have a bit of a debate about which donut shop is king. For the cult followers, a trip to Voodoo Doughnut is a requirement (Because who doesn’t want a donut that looks like a zombie with a jelly “blood” center?). The purists, though, prefer Blue Star Donuts. Why not try them both and decide for yourself?

If donuts aren’t your thing, maybe ice cream will hit the spot. In keeping with the city’s motto of “Keep Portland Weird”, even their ice cream shops have to mix it up a bit. Have you ever wanted to taste pear and blue cheese ice cream or have edible flowers mixed in to your sorbet? Then look no further than the ultra-creative flavors of Salt and Straw. You won’t find any plain Jane vanilla here, but that’s not why you came to Portland.

 

Now it’s your turn! What are your favorite go-to spots for families in Portland?

 

Ireland Adventure

I’ve always been a carpe diem-type person, and if an opportunity presents itself I’m likely to seize it before it has a chance to slip away. It makes perfect sense, then, that when Jon found out this summer that he’d need to travel to Ireland for work in a few weeks’ time that I would see this as an opportunity to seize.

Ever since we left Ireland three years ago I’ve been trying to find a way to get back there. Ireland will always be a second home in my heart, and I’ve been homesick. The timing of Jon’s business trip seemed ideal–I could bring Hannah (who is not quite 2 years old yet, and therefore still able to travel on a plane without having to buy her a ticket)–as our only child who has never been to Ireland I felt like she has been missing out on a big part of our family history. In addition, we could take advantage of the September sweet spot between the busy tourist season and the wet and windy days of…well…the rest of the year in Ireland. So, really, I just had to go.

I begged and pleaded my case with Jon and as soon as he gave me the affirmative “Well, we could look into this and see if it makes sense…” speech, I scheduled an appointment at the passport office so we could make Hannah a legit traveller and I started researching flights. Since Jon was traveling for work, he had to be in Europe a week before me and we had to book our tickets at the last minute after he received his final work schedule. In the end, though, we found a way to get me there at the end of his trip, and he was even able to take a few days of vacation during the time I would be there. I was actually going to carpe my diem after all!

Arranging to leave on a cross-continental journey alone with a toddler, while also preparing everything at home for your two school-aged children who would be staying behind, was a bit of a puzzle. It was a whirlwind of preparations, but finally travel day arrived and I braced myself for the journey ahead.

I don’t know if any of you have ever traveled with young children, but if you have then I’m sure you’ll agree with what I’m about to say: toddlers are the WORST. The worst travel companions, that is. I love my children, but I despise traveling with them when they are toddlers (even if they are really stinkin’ cute).

Babies: no problem. They nurse and sleep and snuggle and they’re easy-peasy. Big kids–even preschoolers–fine. They can entertain themselves with coloring books or movies or snack time. Some of them can even reason or understand the reward that awaits them on the other end of the travel. No problem.

But toddlers? Toddlers are a nightmare to travel with. They are set on their schedule and routine and their own cozy bed, and when they don’t have those things they scream. They are tired all the time but they refuse to sleep, so instead they scream. They can’t communicate their needs, and when they try to do so but you don’t understand, they scream. They are always hungry but if you feed them the wrong food or food in the wrong way or, God forbid, request that they not dump the entire juice box down the front of their shirt, they scream. They don’t have the attention span to watch a tv show or play with an app or read a book or color a picture, and when you suggest that they do any of these things they scream. They want to walk and explore, and when you make them sit they scream. Basically, they do a lot of screaming and the parents do a lot of hair-pulling.

You can see, then, why I was not-so-excited to be traveling alone on a 10-hour flight with a toddler.

Our travel day to Ireland went something like this:

6:00 Wake up, make breakfast, get the kids ready for school
8:00 Drop David off at school
8:45  Go to the grocery store and stock up on food that my kids might actually eat so their grandparents have a reasonable chance of success in feeding them for the next week.
9:30  Go to the gas station and fill the car up with gas so the grandparents can cart the children around all week
10:00 Get the last load of laundry out of the dryer and finish packing
11:00 Make lunch for the two children who are still home with me
12:00 Grandparent helpers arrive! Review with them the 38-page Childcare Manual that I compiled to ensure they know the who/what/where/when/why of the offspring I’m leaving in their care.
12:30 Drop off Jacob at preschool
1:00  Drive grandparent chauffeurs around to the kids’ schools and activity locations and explain the overly-complicated drop-off and pick-up procedures
2:00 Meet my brother in law (who is driving us to the airport) at home. Load my bags, car seat, stroller, baby carrier, backpack, and baby into his car. Drive to the airport
3:00 Schlep my 5,000 essential travel items through the airport to the baggage check-in area. Get shuffled to 3 different locations before an actual human is willing to help me check in (the computers don’t like checking in babies, by the way).
4:00 Finally get through airport security! Buy a burrito for linner (lunch-dinner) because who knows if/when I will get another chance to use my own two hands to eat again.
4:30 Settle at the airport playground to eat my linner burrito while Hannah runs around screaming in a place where it is socially acceptable for a toddler to scream.
5:00 Call the boys to FaceTime with them before we board the plane. David is sick. He has a headache and is throwing up (As it would turn out, David would be sick the entire duration of our travel and wouldn’t go back to school until after our return. His grandparents who stayed home and cared for him now have infinity crowns in Heaven.).
6:00 Board the plane an hour before take-off because that is how much time is required for 200 people to find their seats, argue over who gets which overhead storage bin, and browse the SkyMall magazine.
7:00 Takeoff!

So, you see, by the time our plane even left the runway I was exhausted. I’d already had a full day of running around and chasing children, and yet there were miles to go before I’d sleep.

Hannah actually did great on the flight. She was in a good mood and I was able to get her to fall asleep in my Ergo baby carrier after just a few hours of flight time. Unfortunately, my joy over the well-traveled toddler was about to end.

I was standing in a hallway in the middle of the plane bouncing Hannah to keep her happy and asleep when we hit turbulence. The flight attendants asked me to return to my seat and buckle my seatbelt for the time being. Normally this would not be an outlandish request, after all, the seatbelt is there for my safety, but I knew the real consequences of this request. A sleeping toddler who is in an upright position sleeping in a carrier will almost certainly awake once they are squished into a narrow airplane seat and restrained with a seatbelt. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter, though, so I went back to my seat.

As soon as I sat down Hannah woke up. And she was angry. She wanted to keep standing and bouncing, and she was going to let me–and everyone else on the plane–know how she felt about this situation. So she did what toddlers do best: she screamed. And screamed. And screamed. I tried to comfort her but until I could stand up and resume the mommy rock-bounce, there was nothing I could do.

As if the stress of having a tired, angry toddler screaming in my arms wasn’t enough, some gentleman sitting a few rows behind me thought it would be prudent to also let me know how he felt about the situation. I’m sure my crying baby was quite the personal insult on him because he started yelling across the plane, “Won’t someone shut that thing up!” and other helpful, encouraging words. He was so helpful, in fact, that the flight attendants requested him to stop lest he be escorted right off the plane.

After 10 minutes that felt like 10 years, we were past the turbulence and allowed to get out of our seats again. The flight attendants were super helpful after the whole guy yelling incident and they moved me to another seat that had more room…and that was as far away from the yelling guy as I could get. Hannah fell back asleep right away (as I knew she would), but I was so angry and stressed out that I just sat in my seat brooding for the rest of the flight.

Our first flight ended in Amsterdam, and I had an 8 hour layover before our final flight into Ireland. I had found out that it’s very convenient to take the train from the Amsterdam airport into the city center and, since I had time to kill, I decided to give it a try. When we disembarked from the train in Amsterdam, however, I realized that I was grossly unprepared for the weather. The city was in the midst of a tempest and the only thing we had to keep us warm and dry was our airplane travel clothes (pajamas), plus a blanket I stole off the plane. I was already there, though, so I decided to walk around the city for a  bit before heading back to the airport.

We managed to find some yummy pancakes to eat, but I didn’t have the energy or the rain gear to do much else.

We returned to the airport, changed into the clean set of clothes that I thankfully had in my backpack, and spent the rest of the day exploring inside where it was warm and dry. The day is mostly a blur because I’d already pulled an all-nighter with a toddler. I was in survival mode. As a consolation, at least they had these giant tea cups to sit in.

Finally it was time to board our last flight, we made the short journey from Amsterdam to Cork, we arrived, a taxi took us to our hotel, Jon met us at the door, he carried us into bed, and then I didn’t wake up for 14 hours.

And that, my friends, was the longest day of my life.

The next afternoon I woke up totally refreshed and ready to go. We looked out our window and we’re greeted with the most spectacular view of Cork city.

Jon was finishing up his last day of work in Cork, so I met up with some friends at a park down the road.


Joanne had been my neighbor when we lived in Cork, and her two children were two of our boys’ best friends. Joanne had a friend from growing up, Leah, who lived the next neighborhood over. Leah’s son was in David’s preschool class, and so us 3 moms had spent many days together with our children. When we lived in Ireland our kids had played together on “the green” in the middle of our neighborhood nearly every day and us moms had spent endless hours getting to know each other over cups of tea. Reconnecting with Joanne and Leah (and their new children who had not yet been born when we left Ireland) was the perfect start to my little Irish adventure.

Over the next few days we did exactly what I had set out to do in Ireland: we visited the people and the places that we missed.

We went to our old church and caught up with our “family” there.


We went to museums and the zoo and parks.


We visited historic churches and rang the bells in their bell towers.


We attended playdates and birthday parties.


We had afternoon tea and dinners with our friends.


We visited dear friends of ours from California who had recently moved to Cork.


We walked on the sea cliffs and breathed in the fresh, salty air.


We went to a castle.


We listened to trad in a pub.


We drank tea and had a pint in our local.


We ate the local delicacies.

(No, not that.)

We walked the streets that we used to call home.

We spent a whole week living out all of our favorite things with all of our favorite people, and it was perfect.

But, as with all good things, eventually it came to an end. At the end of our week I was sad-happy–sad, because I knew that I wouldn’t be back again for a long time, but happy for the experiences this week that would never leave me.

Thank you, Ireland, for a lifetime of memories squeezed into a single week. I love you so much that it was even worth traveling to you with a toddler–and that’s saying a lot!

Until next time, Ireland–I miss you already!

The Edge of Ireland: Mizen Head and Dromberg Stone Circle

After a very emotional week, I was in desperate need of some quality family time over the weekend.  We spent all day Saturday lounging around home–I don’t think the boys even got out of their pajamas the whole day. It was wonderful. By Sunday we were all ready to go out and do something, so we decided to embark on one of our family fun-ventures. I’ve been wanting to see Mizen Head, the southern-most point in Ireland, for quite some time now. After two failed attempts to go to Mizen Head in the last few months, it was time to give it another go. And, luckily for us, the third time worked like a charm. It was a glorious sunny day and we were surprised by how much we enjoyed our little day trip.

Mizen Head is in southwest County Cork, about a 2 hour drive from our house in Cork City.  On our way out to Mizen Head we made a couple of stops to help break up the drive. Our first stop was Dromberg Stone Circle, an ancient site of ritual and ceremony:

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Nobody knows the exact purpose of these circles (there are several still standing in Ireland), but it is believed that the alignment of the stones has something to do with the alignment of the sun during the winter solstice. Excavations of the Dromberg Stone Circle in the 1950’s uncovered a pottery vessel containing the cremated remains of a youth which were carbon dated to about 1100 B.C. Today, the circle still stands where it has stood for thousands of years: in the middle of a field overlooking the ocean. It’s quite sturdy, as evidenced by the climbability of the stones:

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Just outside of the stone circle there are the remains of two stone huts that were probably part of an ancient village:

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Inside one of the “huts” you can still see what remains of a unique cooking system. There are two pits: a hearth tucked into the back wall and a trough in the middle of the floor. Apparently what would happen is the people would heat stones in the hearth then place them in the trough full of water. The water would become quite hot for several hours and they could cook meat (and even brew beer!) submerged in the hot water. It’s kind of like a Bronze Age sous-vide cooker, if you will:

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After exploring the stone circle we got back in the car and continued up the road. On our way to Mizen Head we pulled off to what we thought was a turnoff at a scenic viewpoint. While the spot was unbelievably “scenic”, there was another little treasure here as well: an altar wedge tomb.

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This ritual tomb was constructed at the end of the Stone Age, between 3,000-2,000 B.C. The entrance to the tomb is deliberately aligned with the Mizen Peninsula and–if I don’t say so myself–has quite a magnificent view. Here are Jon and Jacob standing outside the entrance to the tomb for a little perspective of what the area looks like:

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From here it was only about 25 minutes to the Mizen Head visitor center. When we arrived at the visitor center we took care of business right away: 1. potty  2. lunch. It was such a nice day that we decided to have a picnic outside. There is a great playground at the visitor center and the boys were having so much fun there that we decided to just eat our lunch in the playground instead of sitting at the boring old picnic tables:

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At the playground, David found two little boys who were kindred spirits (as in, they all had boundless energy and enjoyed knocking each other down for fun). He had a grand time playing with his friends until Mom and Dad tore him away from them.

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To get to the end of the Mizen Peninsula, to the “head”–the very end of Ireland, you hike down a beautiful seaside path. The path is paved (thank goodness, because the boys never would have made it if we hadn’t brought the stroller!) and the scenery is breathtaking. Cliffs and crashing waves all around you. Absolutely incredible.

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When you get down to the bottom of the first cliff you have to cross a suspension bridge to get out to the lighthouse that is at the end of the peninsula. Here is the view of the suspension bridge from the top of the cliff:

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And here is the view from the suspension bridge looking down, down, down…it was a long way down. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but we were hundreds of feet in the air here with nothing but cliffs and rocks and water below:

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After we crossed over the bridge we walked down to a viewpoint where you could look back up at the bridge:

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Walking a bit further up the path we came to the hundred-year old lighthouse and keeper’s quarters that are set up like a bit of a museum now. When we walked out of the lighthouse it was the moment we’d all been waiting for: our view of the end of Ireland!

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It was amazing to see that point of rocks jutting out into the water, that southernmost part of this island. For thousands of people leaving Ireland (or Europe, for that matter) this point was their last glimpse of land–explorers, immigrants, and even convicts would have sailed by this very spot and off into the great blue ocean. And, for many who would never return, it was the last piece of Ireland they would ever see. For us, though, it was just another (beautiful) stop on our grand tour of this amazing country:

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After a full afternoon exploring Mizen Head we loaded back into the car. Before heading home, though, we made one last stop at a place called Barleycove Beach. There were huge sand dunes, millions of rabbits and their rabbit holes, seashells and, of course, rocks to throw in the water. A recent storm had washed out the footbridge across the river to the wide oceanfront beaches, but we still had a great time skipping stones on the river and collecting seashells.

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When we felt that the boys were sufficiently worn out we loaded them in the car for the long drive back home. Our ploy worked beautifully and within minutes both boys were snoozing peacefully in the back seat:

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We arrived back in Cork at dinner time and, since neither of us felt like cooking after our long day out, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at our favorite “chipper” (a shop that sells fish and chips and other fried goodness). KC’s is ammmmazing, as evidenced by the mile-long line that winds out the front door and up the street during all business hours. The food is well worth the wait, though–especially if you’ve just had a long day exploring stone circles and wedge tombs and cliffs and beaches.

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I think we will all remember this day for many years to come: the day that we went to the edge of Ireland and back again.