Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Columbia Gorge Hotel

The Columbia Gorge Hotel

When George Benson was building the first Columbia Gorge Highway, he evidently wanted 2 things: A place to drive his new Ford, and a nice hotel to stay in at the end of the road. Since he was building his own road, he necessarily had to build his own hotel. This he did at the end of the most scenic part of the gorge right above a convenient thundering waterfall.

Our room is that second floor one around the corner

My Kayak partner is a member of a professional organization that has frequent trainings and other conferences. I get to go along and play the role of the beautiful spouse. Yes, I have a costume. Anyway, this leaves me doing engineer work (and perhaps some blogging) from some number of hotel rooms and lobbies.
This week, I have set up my little blogging station in the dining room of the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel, right at the Western edge of Hood River, Oregon.

When we checked in the nice lady at the front desk said we were lucky to have a very nice room. I was a little suspicious that she might say this to all guests (and why not?) until we opened the window of our room. We have a beautiful view of the river, and a corner room, but the big bonus is that right under our window are the Falls. And these are not some little falls either, This is a really large thundering waterfall. With a name and everything, something like win win mah falls. Why haven't I ever heard of these falls before? I am suspicious it is because you can't really see the falls from any place except the hotel, or down on the river. We are up on a big cliff here. Down at the base of the cliff is the railroad and the river and not much else. So you can see it from River. And perhaps from Washington. But there are no good views from Oregon. Still, I need to do some research.

This place is on the historic registry for the US and it certainly has all of the quaint little things you might expect to find in an old building that has been updated. There is a pretty good size surrounding garden and paths complete with a swift running stream (which later runs over that waterfall). I think it rare to find a resort with a water feature running through it that is a real stream, as opposed to a recycled pumped water thing. Right now, with all of the recent rain, the stream is high and the water is loud. We admired the little funny hair ducks and the pert nippled statuary. What is it with hotels and nipples these days?

And a River runs through it

We went into Hood River (That is a town name) to wander around and find dinner last night. Lots of Brew Pubs and wine tasting. We ended up at a place up on the cliffs called Horse Feathers. Good Beer, Good Service, and the best food presentation I have ever seen at a brew pub. The place was also empty. My Partner says it is because the town makes it's money off of fun hogs and they are not around until the wind surfing seasons starts a little later in the year. I got the term 'Fun Hogs'  from my partner. These are people (usually men) that would rather do intense outdoor athletics (like backpacking and kayaking and wind surfing) than get a real job. "Great guys to hang around with and to date, but not so good to raise a family with". We engineers are, presumably, the opposite. Great guys to raise a family with but not so much fun to hang out with?

I think this may be a good place for my Editor to add some comments about wind surfing.

What else is going on at this place?

I guess it is something of a Wedding Location. There are a couple of places outside that look like they would be nice to stage a wedding. And there are a LOT of unconnected white mini Xmas lights all over the place. Like they could really light the place up with fairy lights when they want to. Though I am suspicious that they would have to string a lot of extension cords out to the lights and then find out that a lot of them are not working since the last time they were plugged in.

There was a local wine tasting event going on while we were there. It seemed to stretch on for a few evenings and consisted of over 1000 bottles of wine in the ball room setup on doors on saw horses.  10 to 20 people a night would come in and wander around the tables for a few hours. Must have been a lot of tasting going around.

Ever see 100 bottles of (mostly open) wine?

There is an antique elevator right by the check-in desk. You call it with a buzzer and then one of the staff will hop in and drive it up to you. Everything is hand operated and it has one of those elevator controls that you can tell is just power to an electric engine somewhere to make the car go up and down. The staff have to aim the car at the threshold to make sure and not leave too big a gap to trip over. Pretty fun. But they wouldn't let me drive even after I assured them I had a Master's Degree in Electrical Engineering.

Sort of like this shot I got from the Internets.

This is daffodil season. The daffodils are putting their yellow color all over the gardens around the hotel. You can see some places where the flowers have escaped the garden, past the wrought iron fence and right over the cliff. There is yellow blooming down there on the cliff side.

You will find daffodils growing in strange places around Oregon. Out in the woods you can find a little clump. I have this theory that they are growing at what once was some settler woman's front door. She planted them there a hundred years or more ago. She is gone. Her children are gone. Her house is gone. Perhaps the entire little settlement is gone. Gone the way of lumber towns once the big trees are gone. But the daffodils are still there. Still popping up every spring to have a look around and wonder where that woman and her family went.

Daffodils escaping down the cliff side
Saturday morning, before venturing out to do some local hiking, we ate a very pleasant breakfast at the hotel. My partner ordered a Scone. We were told that the scone came with "Honey from Heaven" and would we like that? Having no idea what it was, of course we said we would love it. The waitress brings the scone to us along with a gravy boat of honey. She pours the honey onto a plate from way up high, just a little stream. As she does, she tells us this story:

"Have you seen that wonderful waterfall on the north side of the building? That is the Wah Gwin Gwin waterfall. The name means falling water and rocks and was also the name of an Indian princess. We pour the honey from the sky in memory of the princess and to tell the story of the waterfall. This is the 6th largest waterfall in Oregon and the only waterfall that is privately owned. All of the others are state property, but this one was grandfather in as private property by George Benson when he built this hotel.  Notice the nice stone work out back? Benson used the same Italian stone masons that did the walls and features for the old Columbia Highway. That is why the stone work looks the same as you would see at Multnomah falls or other rest places along the old road. The Steam Paddle boats on the Columbia also had the hotel as a destination stop. They would pull up at the base of the falls and blow their whistle to signal how many rooms should be made-up for passengers disembarking."

Wah Gwin Gwin and Princess

Very nice story. Though it does seem that all waterfalls are named after indian princesses who had the word "Water" in their name.

The breakfast at the Hotel is pretty great, by the way, and very reasonably priced. We had very nice seats overlooking the river. Perhaps it is more crowded once the season starts up.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Urban Adventure: The Nines

The Nines

I sort of forgot to take my good camera with me this weekend so I borrowed a lot of pictures from the internet. I have included them as links to the original source. I am hoping that is legal without more in depth attribution.

Some Northwest adventures are going to naturally occur in a more urban setting.
This weekend, for instance, was one that my Kayaking Partner had reserved for a trip into the big city (Portland, sorry Seattle) to spend the night in a posh hotel. We don't usually stay in posh hotels, but we had secured a couple of nights during a money raising auction for a non-profit we like and it has come time to use this one before it expires.

So, on this somewhat rainy weekend we got a drop off in front of The Nines, right in Pioneer Square in downtown Portland.

The Meyer and Frank Building with Departure on top. Image from Departure web site

The Nines is an unusual setup for a Hotel. Though it's front door and valet opens up right on Pioneer Square (the sort of cultural and activity center of Portland) the lobby and check-in are on th 8 floor of the building. You ride the elevator up, get your room key in the naked woman decorated lobby (more on that later) and then use your room key to access the floors that have the actual rooms. The same elevators also service the night club and restaurants, so lots of young people going up and down who are out on the town.

More on the building (yeah, yeah, naked lobby, hold your horses). The whole collection of clubs and posh is built inside of the historic Meyer and Frank building. Meyer and Frank was an established nice department store in the Northwest in the 20th century. Their big store was in downtown Portland. They have this 15 story building with lots of shopping options. Over the years they downsized to the bottom 6 floors.  About 5 years ago, they were bought by Macy's.  Around the same time, Starwood Hotels began a project to renovate the top 9 floors into The Nines.  So now the bottom 6 floors of the building is Macy's and the top 9 floors are the hotel and restaurants.

Inside the Nines. Up on the 8th Floor
The center of the building starting at the 8th floor is an atrium. Half of the rooms look into the center. Not much normal atrium-ness going on there, but there is some casual seating and the Urban Farmers restaurant. Urban Farmer is the new Farm to Table restaurant in Portland. They advertise all sorts of funky modern methods of delivering local high quality food quickly and efficiently from local farmers. The horse standing on the sidewalk out back was, I believe, unrelated.

I am a little uncertain how I feel about the attempt at start trek like modernity that was employed in the hotel and restaurants. The hallway carpet, for instance, leading to our room was a pattern very reminiscent of riding through the worm hole with the SG1 team.  And the accent color of the place, this sort of turquoise, was everywhere, including the futuristic devan in our (very comfortable) room. And then there was the aforementioned lobby. You get off of the elevators on the 8th floor, and you walk around the corner to behind the elevators where the check-in desk stands guard to the atrium. As you walk, enclosed in glass are artistic dresses rendered in slim wire or transparent plastic. Dresses that, if you wore them, would still leave you naked. As you approach the lobby, these dresses give way to the artificial women that would have been wearing the dresses. A number of nude and posed manikins, some with faces, some without, some with nipples, some without, all standing there with poles up their torsos inviting us to The Nines. Shouldn't they be dressed to the Nines? What message are we being sent here?  (Editor's note: I was not particularly impressed with the art, but instead somewhat offended.  Certainly didn't make me what to hang out in the Atrium restaurant/bar and spend my money on my husband's birthday). 

Just a little Strange.
For dinner (did I mention it was my birthday?) my partner had made reservations at the Asian Restaurant on the top of the building. We put on some good clothes (Hey, my Kayak Partner cleans up NICE), I got to prove once more that I still know how to tie a tie, and we headed upstairs.

The place is called Departure, It is once more in the Star Trek theme. Perhaps a departure lounge for internstellar flights. You get off the elevator in a sort of connection tunnel. A rounded tube affair that leads you to the ….. loading ramp? Up to the reception desk. When we got there, at 5:00, the place was pretty much empty. We had a reservation for 5:00 (which was the only one we could get). There is a young couple that arrives at the desk just before us and asks for a table. They are told they can be put on the waiting list, the earliest they could be sat is 5:30 but there is no guarantee for a table until 9:30.


We sat in our table out under the glass canopy that gives a big view of the city and surrounds. Not a spectacular view because of the MODA building, which I think would have been hiding Mt. Hood on a clearer day. But still. Up high. Nice lighting. Nice tables. Lots of goodlooking young men and women bringing out food and such. Our waitress (dressed in what may have been a flight attendant's uniform) advised us to order a few things and share them and that the food would come out at different times, as it was ready. She suggested her favorite which was Bibimbap. Seems like servers always have a favorite everything to suggest. This is my favorite: Entre, Dessert, Beer, 52 year old Scotch Whiskey. Whatever. They probably do a lot of tasting, though I have this fantasy that says there is a large sign in the Kitchen that reads “YOUR FAVORITE FOOD TODAY IS BIBIMBAP”.

Bibimbap turns out to be a Korean vegetable and rice dish that is second cooked in a hot rock bowl on your table. It was good. The little beef skewers we had were also very nice. And the garlic scallops were incredible. As we were eating, the place was quickly filling up. A very popular place for young people. In particular, young women. Hmmmm, young and old women. 2 large parties of young oriental women in short black dresses. Don't know what was up with that. One of the women was wearing a brightly colored sash. Like a girl scout merit badge sash only the same color as the couch in our room. Perhaps a birthday?

Speaking of which, our stewardess brought us a free desert for my birthday. She didn't ask, she just brought us her favorite!! Some sort of coconut Ice cream thing. Did you know that many people don't care for coconut? True. Which means, of course, more for me.

After dinner we went exploring a bit. There was this one long corridor with light at the end. The stewardess said it was the roof top bar. Sounds...... dangerous. Walking down the corridor toward the light was also strange, there were these big side rooms every 30 feet or so down the corridor. I turned into the first one only to discover this rather shody looking grey haired guy coming right at me with a surprised look on his face. Oh. It is a mirror. All of them are mirrors. I think I got used to it after the third one. The roof top bar turned out to be a bar. On the roof. The view was from the other side of the building looking back into the prettier part of the city. We could see Pioneer Square down there below. It is just me, or is giving people alcohol whilst they are standing on a roof with a 4 foot glass retaining wall really such a good idea?

The roof top Bar. This link from Departure web site
Back down the corridor and then we turn to go down that strange exit ramp and back into the Departure entry tube. Kayak partner says, “My oh my, this tube would be very difficult to navigate if you were drunk”.

That Corridor. Link from Departure website
Back down to ground level. We were going for a walk around town after our dinner. Some fun little shops in this immediate area of town (and I am ignoring the big Pioneer Square mall, for now). There is a big Nike store, a Oregon Ducks Store. A Beaver store (the Beaver Jerky is delicious, much better than the Duck Jerky).

We stopped into Rocket Fizz. Rocket Fizz is a retro candy and soda store. They have hundreds of different kinds of pop on sale. And none of it is Coke or Pepsi. I usually get a bottle of Ginger Beer (a very gingerly flavor). There are also all of these funny 50's and 60's vintage funny advertisements and signs on the walls. They sure look old (a little rusty). I wonder where they came from. Kayak Partner pulls one off the wall and reads the back. Made in China 2011. Damn.

Rocket Fizz Advert. Borrowed from the Internets

On most trips into the City, I would stop at the Church of the Holy Apple to pray to the gods of coolness Instead we got us some ice cream at 31 flavors and then it was time for bed.

Well. Time to go back to our very nice room.
And watch a show.

She has a Amazon Fire Stick. It is a cute little thing that looks like a USB flash drive but plugs into an HDMI port on a TV. It talks to the WIFI and will stream your shows for you. You can use it anywhere, well, anywhere with WIFI.   Perfect for a hotel, the Amazon web site says.  Turns out it works pretty great as long as you have good enough WIFI internet. Unfortunately, the free WIFI at the Hotel wasn't quite good enough for us to watch our Good Wife episode. Sigh.  (Editor's Note, this is the fifth hotel or condo we've tried to use it in, with no success)

So we did some snack research.

Here is our snack tray.

For only $8 you can get not 1 but 2 things of M&Ms !!

Or you can try the Intimacy Kit.

Never seen anything like this before.  Erotic Vibrating Ring AND a multi-speed Vibrator.
2 premium condoms.

2 !!

Personal Lubricant (not that public lubricant you get at most hotels)

Please put your jokes in the comment section and a prize will be given for the best one.

In the morning, we walked a few blocks over to Mother's Bistro for breakfast. Good mirrors. Nice old building. Very wonderful Salmon Hash and Waffle breakfast. Get there early or wait in line out the door.

And so ends our exciting urban adventure. We almost used Uber, but decided to save $15 bucks and take the bus home. But the Uber App looks pretty cool. You can see the Uber cars driving around the city in real time, like Ants in an Ant farm. Oooh, I want that one !!