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Archive for July, 2010

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, OregonCannon Beach, on the northern Oregon coast, is tourist heaven.  Happily, this sweet town has a lot more than souvenir and ice cream shops. Who wouldn’t love the wide, sandy beach, with Haystack Rock rising 235 feet just offshore? At low tide I walk the wet sand to this seabird sanctuary and look for the sea stars and anemones that live in the tidepools. (Keeping an eye on the tide, of course–don’t want to get stuck on Haystack with waves rushing in around me.)

Some people build sandcastles, fly kites or go surfing or boogy boarding (brrr, that Pacific water is cold). I prefer hiking the woodsy trails of Ecola State Park, on the north end of town, with the roar of the rolling surf never far away. Then I window-shop with everyone else. The last time I counted, Cannon Beach had some 60 shops and galleries: gifts, cards, candy, fine art, photography, wines, handblown glass, you name it.  It has an active theater and at least 30 places to eat, from pizza parlors to high cuisine restaurants. Good bakeries, too. All this in a town with a population under 2,000.

I always head for two places. First, Cannon Beach Book Company, a 30-year-old bookstore with great reading choices. I browse for hours and invariably find something I’ve got to read. This time it’s The Mine, by Daniel Cobb, an Oregon science and technology writer. His thriller is the story of a young biologist who discovers fraud, corruption and murder in a mining company, and the disaster that follows. It’s a page-turner and a must-read for anyone concerned about the environment.

My other favorite is a restaurant, Newmans at 988, restaurant, Cannon BeachNewmans at 988. Dinner is expensive, and it’s worth it. I’m not going out on a limb here; almost everyone is wowed by Chef John Newman’s fantastic way with French-Italian food. A few have complained about the service, but I find it just right, attentive but not hovering. Newmans is small, in an unassuming yellow house on Hemlock Street. Its carpeting and low ceiling keep the noise level at a pleasant hum, and the background music (Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett–old standards, but stil the best) goes well with white linens and candlelight.

The seared scallops appetizer is melt-in-the-mouth wonderful. It’s served with sweetseared scallops, Newmans at 988, Cannon Beach, Oregon corn, mushrooms, and a parsley/carrot reduction, with a touch of truffle oil to add a light smokiness.  Delicious. The duck trio entree has duck in 3 ways: delicate liver in a light crust along with slices of dark and light meat and served with perfectly cooked polenta and vegetables. There’s a balanced wine list, with a number of Pacific Northwest wines, and delectable desserts created by pastry chef Nancy Williams.

Chef John has won a number of awards and will be a part of the March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction, Nov. 10, 2010. These auctions, held in about 200 U.S. cities, have raised more that $132 million for the March of Dimes effort to save babies. The Portland auction will be held at the Marriott Portland Downtown Waterfront hotel.

The final touch, after my excellent dinner, is a stroll around Cannon Beach with the festive crowd. With maybe just a taste of chocolate and a sip of espresso to end a fine day at the beach.  See you at the tidepools.

For more of the world’s interesting beaches, try Flightster and Travel Channel Beaches. 

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Bab el-Mansour, Meknes, MoroccoWe’re in the ancient city of Meknes, west of Fez, and we’re standing in front of a huge gate of marble, stone and colorful tiles, and wondering, Now what? The gate, Bab el-Mansour, is enormous, one of the biggest in Morocco, a country with an abundance of massive doors set into thick walls. It’s fabulous, a chunk of history and craftsmanship. But we’re surrounded by honking traffic, gawking tourists, donkey carts and shoppers,  plus a horse-and-carriage lineup. We know Meknes has a lot more than this, it’s a World Heritage Site. We need a guide.

There’s never a shortage of guides. Several magically appear, eager to help. We go with Mohammed, a pleasant-faced man who offers a 1-hour tour of the Berber medina for a few dirham, about $5. We traipse after him, across El Hdim square into the winding, narrow streets of the old section, where artists work in little shops. Silk weavers, tile workers, cedar carvers, saddle makers, furniture painters. These are some of the finest craftsman in Morocco, we’ve heard.

Mohammed has another mission: get these tourists shopping.  Damascene maker, Meknes, MoroccoA man who demonstrates a process of engraving silver on metal, called damascene, sells us a little plate, and as we leave Mohammed ducks back to the shop for, he says, “the toilet”–of course it’s his commission. That’s fine with us, it’s helping him and the economy. He hustles us off to fabulous Kilim carpets, embroidered linens, hand-woven scarves. No more sales, but we have a good time admiring the work, and he gets a handsome tip. We end up back on the square sipping mint tea in a cafe and watching the acrobats and musicians.

Meknes was founded in the 11th century. It had water, fertile soil and olive trees, and did well. Then came Moulay Ismail, a sultan with 500 wives and grandiose dreams.  Some 250 years ago he built (or rather, his slaves built) miles of walls, huge granaries and stables, stone palaces and gardens.  Also some very big arched gates, including Bab el-Mansour. Under the sultan, Meknes became the largest fortified city in North Africa. This man had more power than your average king. Visitors can see the mausoleum where he’s buried, but non-Muslims can only peek at the tomb room.

Berber kilim carpets, Meknes, MoroccoMoroccan craftsmanship is outstanding. Pottery, gorgeous embroidery, wood carvings, jewelry, stunning carpets and more are on display in the Dar Jamai museum, itself a work of art. Once a 19th-century mansion, it’s elaborately painted and carved, every room a jewel box. And there’s a pretty courtyard garden.

As if architecture and design weren’t enough, Meknes is also known for its wine. The French planted grapes in the early 20th century, and now some good wines are produced here. This is not a common thing in a Muslim country, and we’re happy to find it and taste it wherever wine is allowed.

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When it rains day after day in western Oregon, everybody complains. We’re not fish, we’re tired of living in an aquarium. Then you take a trip to Silver Falls State Park, where all that water has made the falls even more dramatic, and all you can do is South Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregongaze in wonder and forgive the rain gods for their deluges.

If the Trail of Ten Falls were anywhere except Oregon, where gorgeous scenery is taken for granted, it would be high on the list of world-famed must-sees. Silver Creek Canyon and its waterfalls, lush greenery, and tall firs and cedars, is spectacular. I know I’m gushing as much as the falls are, but this is a place worth gushing over. I’m not the only one; it can get crowded here in summer.

The sun is shining, for a change, when we arrive at Oregon’s largest state park, a 1.5 hour’s drive south from Portland. We pay an entrance fee, park the car, and hike the trail down into the canyon, where we’re immediately mesmerized by South Falls, thundering 184 feet over the cliff to Silver Creek. Then we walk behind the falls, where the trail widens, and look out through the cascade at the wavery forest.

The park’s foundation began 15 million years ago with lava flows that hardened into basalt. That was topped by 1500 feet of volcanic ash and debris, and water did the rest, gradually eating away soil and rock and creating a steep canyon and stream with waterfalls.

waterfall, Silver FAlls State Park, OregonThe trail continues from South Falls on to Lower South Falls, Double Falls, Drake, Middle North, and Winter Falls, every one of them a roaring plunge into the stream. It’s a loop trip that takes about 3 hours, with stops to dabble our fingers in the cold water and picnic beside a log bridge. We could take the full loop that goes to Twin, North, and Upper North Falls, but that’s almost 7 miles, more than we have time for, so we cut back on the trail through the forest and ferns to the South Falls parking area.

The Civilian Conservation Corps built the foot trail, part of it stairs and bridges, in the South Falls Lodge, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon1930s. In the ’40s they constructed a stone and wood lodge. There are picnic tables and benches scattered throughout the grassy upper level, and clean restrooms and camping areas. Also a nice little gift shop in a log cabin that looks like a movie version of a pioneer homestead.  No bikes and no dogs are allowed on the trail.

If you’ve been to Silver Falls, what part do you like the most? Don’t you think it’s one of the marvels of the Pacific Northwest?

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