Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: July 2018

Aga Khan Garden at University of Alberta Botanic Garden opens to public

After nearly a decade of planning and 18 months of construction the Aga Khan Garden at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden in Devon, just outside Edmonton, opened to the public recently and as the garden is the northernmost of its kind in the world and only the second in North America I wanted explore this notable new local landmark on day-trip with family.

The 12-acre Mughal-inspired garden was made possible by a CAD$25-million gift from the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community, and according to a press release from the Aga Khan Development Network is meant to be “a space for connection, enjoyment, contemplation and education, where cultural understanding can flourish.”

Edmonton was chosen as the garden site despite our harsh winters because of both the city’s sizable Muslim community and its historical significance for having been home to Canada’s first mosque built in 1938 by early Arab Muslim immigrants. The site was announced in 2009 when the Aga Khan came to Edmonton to deliver the university’s commencement address.

The main entrance to the gardens is along a metal walkway through a Woodland Bagh.

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The first water feature is a black granite oval pool meant to reflect the surrounding woods and sky above.

Climbing a few steps visitors arrive at an upper terrace called a Talar, a Persian word for throne, with the fountain at its center representing the source of water for the garden.

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At the top of the Talar there are sweeping views over the Chahar Bagh or four-quadrant courtyard divided by walkways and reflecting pools. The Nahr or stream is meant to celebrate water in its different forms: falling, flowing, reflecting and creating sound.

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The lower terrace is decorated with splashes of colour as throughout the inaugural 2018 season gardeners will complete the planting of over 25,000 new perennials, trees, shrubs and wetland plants but a formal grand opening ceremony is being delayed a year to give the new plantings a chance to become established.

 

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Sprinkled around the garden perched among the fountains and green spaces are life-size bronze salamanders, frogs,  toads, walleye and lake trout which are all native to Alberta. There are 16 of these whimsical animals to be found and spotting as many as possible a good way to entertain the young and young-at-heart.

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Islamic decoration makes frequent use of geometric patterns which has developed over the centuries and are often built on repeating square or circles which when combined form high intricate and complex designs.

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The twenty stone columns each stand 18-feet tall and from a distance resemble Egyptian temples I’d seen during past travels. While most of the stone used in the garden was Canadian sourced the pillars are one exception as it’s a unique limestone imported from Portugal.

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The addition of the Aga Khan Garden is expected to more than double the number of annual visitors to the University of Alberta Botanic Garden from 75,000 to 160,000 and to handle the larger crowds upgrades have been made to the site’s parking lot along with a new entry plaza and other infrastructure improvements.

The new garden is is open to visitors daily from 29 June through 8 October 2018 and joins a network of 11 Islamic parks and gardens built or restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture around the world including Delhi, Cairo, Kabul and Toronto. For admission fees, hours of operations and tours consult the University of Alberta Botanic Garden website.

A Taste of Edmonton

In what’s become an annual Summer family tradition I joined my sister and nieces to take in the sights, sounds, smells and flavors of Western Canada’s largest food festival, Taste of Edmonton.

With dishes from 60 locally owned restaurants and food trucks and nightly entertainment at one of Canada’s largest free outdoor concert series, the festival is in its 34th year but in a new location at Capital Plaza on the Alberta Legislature grounds as it and The Works Art & Design Festival were evicted from their traditional venue on Churchill due to Light Rail Transit (LRT) construction.  The temporary move came with loads of logistical and regulatory adjustments including the removal of a prohibition against alcohol being sold on legislature grounds for the first time in  the province’s history.

Many of the beers on tap are Alberta brewed including local favorites from Alley Kat and Yellowhead Breweries.

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Event tickets are bought either with cash or credit/debit card at one of the ticket booths at entrance points into Capital Plaza and are $9 for 5 tickers, $17 for 10, $34 for 20 and $67 for 40. There is a Taste Menu here which lists each vendors specialties and amount of tickets required so it helps to scan the menu for not only items of interest but to figure out a rough cost. Given that many of the food items cost 4 tickets that’s around $7 for a small plate portion so sampling a few dishes and desserts saw this hungry visitor use up 20 tickets quite easily during a leisurely two-hour amble.

A new food favorite came from LOFT Thai Eatery whose marinated grilled chicken with LOFT peanut sauce was low on the spice meter but high on taste.

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My all-time top pick is Japanese Village’s sirloin beef on rice with sesame sauce and it didn’t disappoint again this year. The green onion cakes from Hong Kong Bakery are filling and one of the better values at only 3 tickets but beware their chili sauce which has a definite kick to it.

For desserts, the Sicilian Canolli from Italian Bakery Edmonton brought back many warm memories of diving into the delicacy in Italian enclaves in The Bronx, New York City.

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The Bix Mix Boys, billed as one of Canada’s hottest bluegrass bands, belted out the tunes during our visit but come evening headliners such as 80’s Canadian music icons Men Without Hats take to the stage.

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The weather cooperated for our visit with a sunny if not hot day but we exited just ahead of an afternoon  thundershower that darkened the skies. We’ll definitely be back for the 2019 version of the tasty festival but may arrive a little less hungry and buy fewer coupons as it’s not the culinary bargain it once was.

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From July 18-29, 2018 some 350,000 festival-goers are expected to attend Taste of Edmonton during its 12-day run.

Positively Portland

Portland, Oregon is known as The Rose City and it was in full bloom for my first visit to this progressive Pacific Northwest port named after Portland, Maine but having grown to almost 5-times the population of its namesake.

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Portland, Oregon is a city without centuries of history but what history it does have is very colourful as in the late 1880’s was considered one of the most dangerous ports in the world because of it’s illegal activities such as gambling rackets and prostitution as well as a thriving business in kidnapping unsuspecting citizens who were forced to labour as sailors, a term that came to be known as Shanghaiing.

By the early 20th century Portland shed its rough and tumble frontier town reputation and after a boom during WWII move in a progressive direction by the 1970’s to become today a leader in environmental consciousness because of its extensive public transportation network, large bicycling community and walkable city center.

My first visit coincided with the 111th edition of the Portland Rose Festival which included the Grand Floral Parade through the city center complete with floats and marching bands.

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As part of the Rose Festival warships are docked during Fleet Week encouraging visitors to tour the vessels and appreciate those who served in the forces.  I toured the USS Michael Murphy, a destroyer named for Medal of Honor recipient Michael P. Murphy who was killed in action in Afghanistan and was  the first U.S. Navy member to earn the award since the Vietnam War.

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We entered through the read deck which serves as a helicopter landing pad and toured forward to the gun deck which was festooned with communication flags.

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Also docked although not open to even this Canadian was Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Regina and coastal defense vessel HMCS Nanimo.

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The Portland Aerial Tram carries commuters between the city’s South Waterfront district and the main Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) campus and is only one of two commuter aerial tramways in the United States, the other being New York City’s Roosevelt Island Tramway. The tram travels a horizontal distance of 1,000 m and a vertical distance of 52 m in a ride that lasts only three minutes.

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The Lan Su Chinese Garden is a walled Chinese garden that takes up a square city block in the  Old Town/Chinatown section of the city and is modeled after famous classical garden in Suzhou, a twin city of Portland.

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While 90% of the plants featured in the garden are indigenous to China none could be imported due to import bans so what has been grown are those that could be found in gardens and nurseries around Oregon.

The Portland Saturday Market was founded in 1973 as a three-way beneficial deal as artists would have an economic outlet for their work, customers would gain better access to locally produced items, and the city would have a new attraction to draw customers into the downtown area. Since it’s creation 45 years ago the market, which has expanded to Sundays, has become the largest continuously operating open-air arts and crafts market in the United States.

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There are number of food vendors at the Saturday Market and enough places out of the rain with which to down the food truck cuisine. Given this is a beer city there are also licensed vendors including Rogue Ales & Spirits.

Keep Portland Weird” is a city slogan borrowed from Austin, Texas aimed at promoting individuality, expressionism, local art, as well as atypical lifestyle choices and leisure activities and that edgy and eccentric vibe is evident in events such the Saturday Market.

Portland is a perfect city for a weekend Summer escape and check out the city’s tourism events calendar for upcoming  festivals, activities and events.

 

A Personal Portland Craft Brewery Crawl

For a city that bills itself as the craft beer capital of the world boasting 70 breweries within its city limits and another 35 in the metro area according to the Oregon Brewers Guild planning a Portland pub crawl may prove harder than one might imagine but it’s that abundance of breweries in a smaller city with a walkable downtown that allows for a visit to as many taprooms and brew pubs as limited time permits as was the case during my first visit to the “City of Roses”.

The roots of Portland’s vibrant modern craft beer scene can be traced back to the 1850’s when German immigrants Henry Saxer and Henry Weinhard brought their old world brewing knowledge to the rugged Pacific Northwest with the latter becoming  a brewing icon whose beer was made in Portland until 1999. These early brewers found key ingredients readily at hand as both high quality hops were being grown in the area and an almost endless supply of crystal-clear river water and high demand from a thirsty population of longshoreman, loggers and labourers.

Fast-forward to the mid-1980’s when Bridgeport Brewing is founded in Portland’s “Pearl District”, a name many say was given to suggest that some of its urban decay industrial buildings were like crusty oysters and the galleries and artists’ lofts within were like pearls.  Bridgeport and others in that first wave of craft breweries benefited greatly from a change in state laws that that had previously prohibited beer being produced and sold on the same premises and soon taprooms and brewpubs featured fresh-brewed, high quality alternative to the big beer brands for locals who drank it up, literally.

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My beer of choice at Bridgeport was the King Pin Double Red Ale with subtle spice and caramel flavors.

Bridgeport Brewing is Portland’s oldest craft brewery and offers brewery tours in its century-old brick and timber building with a pub, mezzanine bar and cocktail lounge, outdoor seating.

A short walk south is Deschutes Brewery, a Bend, Oregon brewery founded in 1988 and named after the Deschutes River.

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My Saturday mid-afternoon visit found the Deschutes brewpub crowded but I managed to carve out room at the bar rail to stand and soak up a pint of what would become my favorite craft beer,  the Pacific Wonderland, a Pilsner with a light citrus and malt flavor and a clean finish.

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The brewpub features large silver frame windows that show off the gleaming copper kettles used to brew it signature and specialty beers which have helped the company become one of the largest craft breweries in the United States.

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Deschutes Portland brewpub opened in 2008 and has a really rustic, log cabin feel with huge wooden pillars and intricate wood carvings of Pacific Northwest nature themes.

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Travelers departing from Portland International Airport, or PDX, can enjoy a parting Pacific Wonderland at the company’s pub in the terminal.

Next on my list is 10 Barrel Brewing which like Deschutes was born in Bend, Oregon in 2006 by a trio of guys who shared a similarly simple mindset: brew beer, drink beer and have fund while doing both.

Despite being sold by its founders to Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2014, 10 Barrel Brewing is still a popular brand and its Portland taproom sports an outdoor rooftop lounge for sultry Summer days.

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Large industrial size garage doors are opened in warmer weather allowing those at the bar a stool with a view.

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Right next to 10 Barrel is the small scale Back Pedal Brewing which could be called a nanobrewery as it’s smaller than a microbrewery brewing beer in small batches. Originally opened in 2013 as BrewStop, a restaurant and bar that served as the home base for the 15-person BrewCycle tour. Back Pedal has an industrial loading dock coziness its larger neighbors go for with their design but don’t pull off quite as well because of their size.

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The bartenders are quick to help with recommendations and explain their beers on tap. While Summer was technically weeks away I chose the Summer Breeze, a light and crisp ale perfect for a warm Summer day which it felt like with the big garage door open.

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Back Pedal Brewing was one of those happy surprises as its small size means it doesn’t appear on city tourism maps or list of notable breweries but I would highly recommend stopping by for a pint as it’s a hidden gem well worth visiting.

A few doors down is Rogue Brewing‘s Rogue Distillery & Public House, a brewery  founded in 1988 and began brewing the following year in Newport on Oregon’s Pacific coast.

 

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After standing for what seemed like an eternity trying to choose from all the beer on tap I wanted to change gears and avoid another amber ale so went with the Honey Kolsch, an award-winning beer flavored with honey produced by colonies of bees on land next to where Rogue grows its hops.

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After the warm welcome at Back Pedal the hospitality at Rogue was more restrained bordering on indifferent but that could’ve merely been my impression after having sampled several pints along the way.

Wanting more than pub grub I headed to a Portland landmark since it opens its doors in 1974, Old Town Pizza & Brewing, for a slice and a pint. While pizza has been served for 40+ years in one of Portland’s oldest standing buildings, the Merchant Hotel built in 1880, beer wasn’t added to the menu until 2012 when a microbrewery was founded in another location in the city.

Legend has it that the historic building is haunted by Nina, a young girl sold into a life of prostitution and who was it’s suspected was killed by her employers when she tried to escape the world’s oldest profession with the help of travelling missionaries. There are Haunted Pub Tours for those wanting to try and meet Nina and see some of the underground tunnels used to “Shanghai” or kidnap drunken sailors and force them onto ships docked nearby against their will.

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Despite a number of sold-out brews on tap I went with the Sun Dazed Kolsch, a German style Kolsch with a low 4.8% alcohol by volume (ABV) and a light taste with hints of fruit flavors.

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Old Town Pizza occupies what was the Merchant Hotel’s original hotel lobby and the window where you order your pizza is the original hotel’s reception desk. Also surviving from the original building is the lobby’s original decorative cast iron beam posts.

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A visit to Old Town Pizza & Brewing feels like stepping back in time with the dining area dressed in mix-and-match antique furniture, adding to the vintage feel of the historic establishment.

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After consuming both pizza and beer I left not having felt Nina’s ghostly presence.

The last stop on my personal pub crawl was closer to my hotel in the downtown, Rock Bottom Brewery. One of 30 locations spread around the U.S. the Rock Bottom chain is to me in the gastropub category with high end beers and food and a big brand franchise feel. That said it isn’t quite to the same extent as some chains like RedRobin,  Chili’s or Applebees as producing high-quality beer on the premises sets Rock Bottom apart.

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Rock Bottom Brewing was founded in Denver in 1991 and has a eclectic mix of beers with playful names, so much so  that I almost wanted to order the Sassy Pants simply to say the name aloud but restrained myself and asked for the Urban Lumberjack amber red ale instead.

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Seven breweries and seven pints later I ambled back to my hotel to try and jot down a few notes about my day-long Portland brewery “research” field trip lest I forget most of it in the morning.

Among the pleasant surprises I learned was that there’s a spirit of collaboration rather than competition among Portland brewers and it’s not uncommon to see the fruits of that joint labour offered for sale next to the breweries own beers. Given the number of breweries in Portland that spirit of cooperation is a good thing because otherwise the competition would be cut throat.

There is enough room in Portland for all breweries and beer drinkers so I’ll find an excuse to return to this corner of the Pacific Northwest one day soon for another personal pub crawl.

 

Mill Creek Ravine gets new old style bridges

Edmonton is blessed with the one of the largest urban park networks in the world and its 18,000 acres sprawl along the North Saskatchewan River filling many ravines, parks and  nooks and crannies. With such an abundance of green space there’s lots of areas to like but one corner I’ve come to love for its shady trails is Mill Creek Ravine and so it was with pleasure that I learned that a City of Edmonton project to rehabilitate or replace century-old railway trestles being used for pedestrian trails was completed  months ahead of schedule, a public works aberration as a number have runs years over schedule and millions over budget, and the bridges reopened to the public.

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The city’s plan called for a year-long $7.7 million project to rehabilitate two trestle bridges and replace one trestle and two glulam (glued-laminated timber) bridges, all of which had been closed to the public in October 2017.

The trestle bridges were built in 1902 for The Edmonton, Yukon and Pacific Railway but after the the railway’s  decommissioning in 1958 were eventually converted to pedestrian use in the 1970’s as part of an expanding river valley trail system. Due to the historical significance of the bridges and largely as a result of public feedback the city’s plan saw 20-25% of the original wood used in the rehabilitation to maintain their authentic look and feel and after touring the bridges feel they accomplished that goal masterfully.

There are some modern touches to the heritage feel wooden bridges including bike rails on both side of the stairs leading from the upper level down to the creek side trails.

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The trestle bridges are in Edmonton’s south side Ritchie and Avonmore neighborhoods and looked ready to stand for another hundred years in the early morning Summer sun.

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The trails in Mill Creek Ravine are part of the 160-kilometres of maintained multi-use trails in Edmonton’s river valley. A map of the whole network may be found here.

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Cycle Portland’s “Brews Cruise”; despite the rain I enjoyed what’s on tap

There are few pastimes that attract my interest more than cycling and beer and so when the occasion arises to combine the two passions it’s double happiness. So it was ahead of a recent trip when my research found a local bicycle tour and rental company, Cycle Portland, that runs a daily “Brews Cruise” cycling between craft breweries through historic neighborhoods.

Cycle Portland headquarters is in the 1905 Rich Block in the Old Town/Chinatown area of the city and in addition to escorted city bike tours does bike repairs and rentals.

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I met my tour guide Sam at the shop and learned I was the only tour participant and in learning that was expecting notice of the tour cancellation for lack of sufficient numbers but was pleasantly surprised to learn my confirmed tour would go ahead as a private tour for one. With slate grey skies threatening Spring showers we headed out on our tour.

Early on the tour we crossed the Steel Bridge, a beloved Portland landmark which in engineering terms is correctly called a  through truss, double-deck vertical-lift bridge with  passenger and freight trains on the lower level which may be opened to river traffic without interfering with car, bike and truck traffic on the upper deck. Opened in 1912 it is one of only two telescoping vertical-lift bridges in the country and the lone one still operating.

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The pedestrian and bike lanes on the side of the historic bridge, which is from the same era and reminded me of Edmonton’s High Level Bridge, are wide and the views of the Willamette River and city skyline including the glass spires of the convention center worth pausing to admire.

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Our first pit stop is Culmination  Brewing where we were greeted by a ferocious guard dog named Barry whose bark is worse than his bite as he warmed up to me after a gentle word for his owner.

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Culmination Brewing is “built around the idea that sustainable manufacturing and building practices can and will lead to superior products and customer satisfaction. Great beer, with good food and community can be brought together in one concept, under one roof”.

The tap list is varied and deciding the hardest part but being so over IPA’s I opted for #15, the Belgian Blonde, which didn’t disappoint although I normally prefer brunettes.

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We pulled up a picnic table on the outdoor patio and enjoyed our beers. The residential neighborhood that surrounds the brewery gives it a really casual atmosphere where you imagine as many people walk over for a pint than ride or drive.

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Before leaving we peeked into the working end of the craft brewery with its tanks and vats and Sam noted the computer Culmination uses but which other brewers eschew preferring instead to rely on their experience and senses to balance the ingredients even if that means a slight taste difference in every batch.

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Off to one side there are old fashioned barrels wooden used for small batch and seasonal brews.

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Culmination Brewing does have a kitchen with popular pub favorite finger foods such as fries, pretzels, mac & cheese and sandwiches.

As we made out way to our next stop we passed through East Portland communities that have decorated their small traffic circles with vibrant floral patterns in an effort to encourage drivers to pay attention to the road.

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Many of the houses in this part of Portland are a century old four-squares and large Craftsman style bungalows and the streets shaded by stately elms.

Our arrival at the adventured-themed Base Camp Brewing Company coincided with the forecasted late afternoon shower so we headed indoors instead of braving the elements on the patio with its Tibetan prayer flags. It seems however that my prayers for a dry day went unanswered.

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Base Camp opened its doors in 2012 and its founders took the adventure of the outdoors indoors with a taproom adorned with rustic canoes overhead and tables made of planks from tree trunks with rough bark edges.

Base Camp is famous for its S’mores Stout that comes with a toasted marshmallow right on the stein but the New Wave Amber caught my eye and the Bavarian style malt beer hit the right notes as Sam and I enjoyed a respite from the rain.

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Base Camp has a pair of local food trucks on-site including a Sherpa Kitchen which unsurprisingly serves authentic Nepalese cuisine.

I learned more about how the craft brewery scene in Portland was a case of the right products being readily available at the right time in the 1980’s when empty industrial space was relatively cheap and abundant. Today there are more than 70 breweries clustered in Portland producing award-winning beers in a spirit of collaboration rather than competition.

The tour cost doesn’t include the beer at the two stops however I found the USD$5 – $6 price range of pints very reasonable considering the high quality of all the beer consumed. The tour ended with a free pint of Lompoc Brewing beer back at the Cycle Portland store which came in a souvenir glass I’ve now added to my growing beer glass and stein collection.  Sam is a genial and knowledgeable tour leader and the leisurely pace of this 2.5-hour perfect for spacing out the samples consumed and still being able to ride well even in the rain.

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