There’s something about first arriving in a new country and falling in love with the first city you visit. Rookie mistake? It still happens to me. It’s also mentionable that the first city you visit is often a big one just by virtue that it’s also a transit hub. From my round the world trip in 2008, it wasn’t always the case: Beijing – not my favorite. Some of my lifetime favorites though are Busan (Korea), Marseille (France), and Osaka (Japan).
Something else they all have in common? Port cities! Which brings us to Porto, Portugal. Previously, I had only visited the Azores briefly, which has a completely different vibe than mainland Portugal. Exploring Portugal has been on my “list” for a while. I snagged a ridiculous flight deal in November for $437 roundtrip from Portland to Madrid. That sealed the deal on spending a week exploring, before settling down in Valencia, Spain for a month.
I fell in love with Porto immediately. I was so glad we didn’t bypass the city like so many travel sites and books had inadvertently “recommended” (by saying to only add it as Day 14 if you have 2 weeks etc.) Porto has the kind of windy streets that you could wander for hours (or years). Our lovely Airbnb host recommended her favorite port lodge across the river (Taylor’s), and away we went for the rest of the day – meandering the hilly streets of the city, trying port wine from the Douro Valley, and taking in our first truly sunny spring day.
On our second day in the country we set off for Coimbra – by car. As you can imagine, driving in Portugal is an adventure. We decided to skip the the new-fangled GPS in favor of the old fashioned way of navigating (stars and maps!). Portugal is kind of the birthplace of navigators (well by sea anyway). We made a few wrong turns along the way, but with nowhere to be it added to the adventure. I can imagine this would be a terrible strategy during the height of travel season in the summer though. Coimbra is one of Europe’s oldest college towns and definitely worth a day of your time if you have a week in Portugal.
One of the reasons we decided to rent a car in Portugal was to have the option to see some of the little towns between the big city sights of Lisbon and Porto. You can reach most place by train or bus, but it was fun to be a bit more spontaneous about where to stop. We ended up not making as many stops from our idea list, and settled on Nazare – home of big waves, epic wind, and a quaint market where we found picnic supplies. Our second stop was Óbidos - a walled castle town that has seen the Romans, Moors, and finally Portugal as its occupiers.
After visiting the smaller towns in central Portugal, it felt quite different rolling into Cascais. What was once an old fishing village is most certainly a resort town, even if the Algarve gets more attention these days. In shoulder-season, it was a great budget place to spend the night and not hard to imagine the beaches covered with people come August.
We started the morning at Boca do Inferno (Portuguese for “Mouth of Hell”). Then we drove the coastal loop up to Cabo da Roca, the most western mainland point in Europe. We continued the loop into Sintra to visit the Pena palace and walk the garden grounds. This place is like Disneyland for castle buffs, and I’m glad we decided to just focus on one main sight. We ended the day with a short, but suspenseful drive into Lisbon to return our rental car at the airport. After navigating the metro back into Lisbon, we settled in at our Airbnb flat and went out for a celebratory beer and sunset (yay! We didn’t crash the rental car!)
Our first full day in Lisbon, we spent walking up and down the streets of our neighborhood in Bairro Alto, around Chiado and down to Baixa. Don’t worry, we stopped at least every two hours for a cafe and pastel de nata (a custard tart pastry).
We continued our pastry and coffee routine the following day. Strolling the Alfama neighborhood in the afternoon, then doing a bit of shopping and having a deliciously expensive fresh seafood dinner up the street at Sea Me.
The last day in Portugal, we visited the seafaring part of Lisbon – Belem and spent a deal of time reading and learning more about Portugal’s history. Don’t worry, we took breaks for coffee, pastries, and sampling Portugal’s wine.
Our week in Portugal sped by, and we by no means did it justice with enough time. On my next visit, I want to explore the southern coast of Portugal, spend more time in Porto, and see more of the central region. One thing we did right within our short timeline was having the one night stays at the beginning of the trip, as it was nice to be able to “relax” at the end with three nights in Lisbon. I would recommend two nights in Porto though.
This spring, I’m testing my annual “Live + Work Remotely” goal with an international experiment. Stay tuned for more updates about my time in Portugal and living in Valencia, Spain.
When I signed up for this race in January, I registered for the 8k. Friends ended up registering for the 15k and since it was free to change distances later – and peer pressure of training with friends is more fun – I opted for the 15k version!
Unlike my first half marathon, in the weeks leading up to the race I was a lot more nervous about my training – or lack there of. I felt like I’d not put in enough distance in my long runs. Most of the weekends that I should have been doing some longer runs were spent hiking, snowshoeing, and then it actually snowed here in Portland. What made me most nervous about this race was that it was hilly. I don’t spend a lot of time running hills, beyond the tiny “hills” in Laurelhurst Park. With 550 feet elevation gain – most of that over a couple of miles up to OHSU and Terwilliger – I was feeling a little intimidated! The course was 2 miles flat, 2 miles slight uphill, 2 miles super upperhill, and then 3 miles downhill.
Race day ended up being perfect weather for March. We got there just in time to use the porta-potties and hop the fence into our pace group. Most of us split up into different pace groups, but my friend Julie and I stuck together. This was also my first race running with someone that I knew, and while we stuck together for about the first mile and a half, I dropped back because I knew the pace was a little too ambitious for me pre-hill! The hill ended up being uncomfortable and tough, but a bit more manageable than I’d built it up to be in my head. I felt like I did a really good job of moderating my pace up front, so by the time I got to the top of the hill, I sped up quite a bit. And now I know for the future that I can push myself a bit more on the hills.
My Shamrock Run Pace – 1:35 (10:13 pace)
I also did a bit better at running the course more efficiently than I did with my half. Nike+ ended at 9.5 (15k is 9.32 miles) so a 10:03 pace unofficially.
What: Adidas Shamrock Run 15k
When: Sunday, March 16, 2014
Where: Waterfront Park to Terwilliger – Portland, Oregon
Overall, I really enjoyed the Shamrock Run. It was a really well done event, and a fun way to kick off the new year to have something to train for. And for the price, it was also a good value. I can see myself running this one again.
Shamrock Run also coincided with my one year running anniversary. I’m amazed at how much I’ve improved in the last year. I went from run/walking 12 minute miles to cutting about 2 minutes/mile off my pace for this hilly 15k. What a difference a year makes, when you’re a beginner!
Check out my Running page for more info on races and how I started running.
Florida’s Tampa Bay area is having their own microbrewery explosion. It’s Portland, circa 2011.
I made my first visit to Tampa in 2011. With a free Sunday afternoon, I suggested we go visit a local brewery. We found two options within Tampa city limits – Cigar City Brewing and Tampa Bay Brewing (looking back now, Cold Storage Brewing had quietly opened a year earlier as well). Three year later, the Tampa Bay area has 28 breweries. 28!
Now, before the Floridians get on their geography high horses, I want to clarify that I’m including as far south as Sarasota and as far north as Odessa. That’s 65 miles from north to south and about 40 miles east west. Compare that to the Portland area, where the bulk of breweries are in a 10 x 10 mile radius. For those about to do the math, most of the Portland area’s breweries can be found in 100 square miles vs Tampa Bay’s 2,600 square miles. (More population data below if you want to read rambly style).
I was curious to take a look at how the breweries opened over time. After not finding any data all in one spot, I created a spreadsheet and then designed the following chart:
Over the last two years, Tampa’s brewery count has grown by over 50%. And since 2014 has just started, I’m guessing the brewery opening rate won’t peak until 2014 or 2015 (Comparatively, it looks like Portland peaked in 2012, but 2014 might be another record year). Getting back to the beer numbers: Tampa Bay has roughly one brewery for every 100,000 people vs the Portland metro area’s one brewery for every 30,000. If you’re talking purely city limits, Portland has one brewery for every 11,000 people.
So when you look at it from that perspective, the Tampa Bay area, as a whole, has room for 66 more breweries before it would be pegged evenly with the Portland metro area for brewery to population density. St Petersburg, Florida is probably the best candidate for matching Portland some day. Talking purely city limits breweries to population numbers, their five current breweries puts them at a 1:49,000 ratio). That’s only 17 more breweries to go, which is pretty likely since the current ones all opened since 2013!
I had the privilege of visiting eight of the new breweries on my last visit, but here’s the full list.
St Petersburg Area:
including Gulfport, Treasure Island, and Seminole
including Odessa, Plant City, and TPA
including Largo, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, and Tarpon Springs
And instead of including a bunch of info on each which will likely be out of date next week, here’s my epic Foursquare list of all 28 Tampa Bay area breweries. And a map below:
Just to compare the Portland area and Tampa area a bit more… the Tampa Bay metro area has more people than the Portland metro area (on the US list of metro areas, Tampa metro is #18 and Portland metro is #24). However, when it gets down to within city limits, Portland has a higher population than Tampa (584,000 vs 348,000). While part of this can be attributed to Portland’s urban growth boundary that limits sprawl, I’d say the fact that Tampa is 30% water and Portland is only 8% water has a pretty big impact on population density stats as well. If you exclude the water from population density, Portland has about 4,400 people per square mile of land, while Tampa has 3,100. The main difference is probably that while the Portland metro area includes places like Vancouver, WA, Gresham, and all the way to Beaverton, we’re mainly just a bunch of land when you look at it at such a zoomed out level. Compared to Tampa, who’s neighbors are all pretty big cities on their own.
Portland city limits: 133 square miles (145), 583,776 pop (4,389 people per sq mi on land) Portland is 8% water
Tampa city limits: 112 square miles (170 sq), 347,645 pop (3,103 people per sq mi) Tampa is 30% water
Compared to San Francisco which is 47 square miles of land and 80% water.
Tampa city limits is a larger area than Portland city limits, but it’s 30% water (vs Portland’s 8% water).
Portland metro area (#24 in US) has 2.29 million people in 6,684 sq mi (that’s 333 people / square mile)
Tampa metro area: (#18 in US) has 2.84 million people in 2,554 sq mi (that’s 1112 people / square mile)
And if I listed anything incorrectly, let me know!
What defines a neighborhood? What makes a place feel “lived in”?
I love maps, data, Portland, research, design, real estate, and numbers. A month or so ago, I fell down a rabbit hole of research. I was thinking about Portland neighborhoods and what makes a neighborhood feel lived in, what defines a neighborhood both from a just a “feel” and from a more tangible perspective.
Turns out there are 95 neighborhoods in Portland. There are also different areas that we think of as neighborhoods that are actually districts, business alliances or tourist-friendly “districts”, that often overlap sections of several neighborhoods. One of the only neighborhoods that fits neatly within both a tourist district and real neighborhood association is the Pearl District downtown. Other neighborhoods like Hawthorne and Central Eastside etc overlap. Hawthorne intersects in parts of Hosford-Abernethy, Richmond, Sunnyside, and Buckman. While Central Eastside Industrial District overlaps the western ends of Kerns, Buckman, and Hosford Abernethy.
I’m kicking off a new series here on the blog featuring a mapped guide to my favorite places. I’m still not totally clear on what my personal definition of a neighborhood is. However, I feel like to be a good neighborhood, it needs to be walkable (Walkscore is still great for this). Local businesses – like coffee shops, restaurants, breweries, shops – also make a neighborhood feel “lived in”, transportation options like sidewalks, bike boulevards, public transit, and parks, places to get groceries etc. So without further ado, here’s the first guide…
At about one and quarter square miles, Hosford-Abernethy is super walkable. While you probably wont hit all these places in one day (there are tons of food and drink options in this neighborhood) here’s a map of some of my favorite places in inner SE.
Drink, Eat, Shop, Explore:
Oui Presse - Oui Presse is an adorable coffee shop, bakery and magazine store. You have to buy a magazine if you’re going to read it, but a cute shop, with reliable wifi nonetheless.
1740 SE Hawthorne [Hours: Monday - Saturday 7am - 6pm, Sunday 8am - 5pm]
Ford Food + Drink - One of the few open-late coffee shops in the city. They also serve beer, so you can get your happy hour on while still computing.
2505 SE 11th [Hours: Weekdays 7am - 10pm, Saturday 9am - 10pm, Sunday 9am - 7pm]
The Commons Brewery - One of Portland’s newer small craft breweries. The Commons brews up European-inspired beers – many Belgian and some German. They always have some seasonal offerings, and their Urban Farmhouse Ale should please anyone. Order: Urban Farmhouse Ale $3, seasonals are $4-5
1810 SE 10th [Hours: Thursday - Friday 5pm - 9pm-ish, Saturday 2pm - 9pm-ish, Sunday 2pm - 6pm] No kids.
APEX & Los Gorditos - What APEX lacks in interior atmosphere, they make up for with 50 beers on tap, and what feels like an acre of picnic tables out front and a huge bike parking area (all of which will be packed to the gils in the summer time). Los Gorditos is the friendly neighbor to the west, where you can place your order and then pick it up at the fence and eat at APEX.
1216 SE Division [Hours: APEX 11:30am - 2:30am; Los Goriditos Monday - Saturday 8am - 9pm, Sunday 9am - 6pm] APEX – No kids!
Nuestra Cocina - One of Portland’s best happy hour house margaritas (margarita de la casa!). When they’re actually open, it’s some of my favorite Mexican food in town. On the pricier end of Portland dining ($17-19 plates), but worth it. Order: fish of the day $18, margarita de la casa: $6.
2135 SE Division [Hours: Tuesday - Saturday 5pm - 10pm]
broder - Portland’s only place to get your Swedish breakfast fix. Worth the wait. Order: seasonal baked egg skillet $11, Stumptown coffee $2.50, & aebleskivers to share)
2508 SE Clinton [Hours: 9am - 3pm]
Little T American Baker - Little T has some amazing bread and lunch options. Great for an afternoon latte stop as well, just be sure to grab a baguette for later!
2600 SE Division [Hours: Monday - Saturday 7am - 5pm, Sunday 8am - 2pm
Cartopia - 12th/Hawthorne carts: Home to Pyro Pizza (some of the tastiest wood-fired pizza in town), Potato Champion, Perierra Crêperie and more tasty carts.
SE 12th & Hawthorne [Hours: Tuesday - Wednesday Sunday 12pm - 1am, Friday - Saturday 12pm - 3am]
St Jack - St Jack is both a patisserie and restaurant. At $22-37 a plate, I’d call it high-end “rustic French cuisine”. If you’re not feeling the price tag, just stop for pastries!
2039 SE Clinton [Hours: Patisserie 8am - 3pm, Restaurant 5pm - 9:30/10:30]
Vintage Pink - While there are loads more shops on Hawthorne, this one is fun for all kinds of mid-century modern, kitschy, vintage and mod stuff. It’s very curated and quite organized, which makes for a fun walk-through. And you can actually find some great prices in here too.
2500 SE Hawthorne [Hours: 10am - 7pm]
Ladd’s Addition – Ladd’s Addition is one of those “neighborhood within a neighborhood” situations as it’s a historic district on its own. The wagon wheel design is one of the oldest planned residential developments, with most of the homes built from 1905-1930. Ladd’s is a great place to bike through, lose your sense of direction, and check out the roses.
OMSI – While Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is often packed with kids, it can be a fun place for grownups too with special exhibits like Sherlock and the monthly “OMSI After Dark” event.
1945 SE Water Ave [Hours: 9:30am - 5:30pm, Saturdays to 9pm]
Hawthorne Bridge – One of my favorite bridges in the city. Walk, run, or bike the bridge loop around the waterfront and over both the Steel and Hawthorne bridges or head south past OMSI to the Springwater Trail to Sellwood.
Springwater Trail – The Springwater Trail connects the Eastbank Esplanade to Sellwood and beyond to east Portland.
After a few years of working and living remotely for several months each year, I’ve gotten the process of snagging a cheap rental car down to a science. Friends and family have asked me on a few occasions for tips or to find one for them ;) so I decided it was about time I wrote it out in a handy step-by-step process.
While my ideal trip doesn’t involve driving (I’d much rather walk, bike, train, bus, subway, Car2go etc), there are some parts of the country (and world) that you simply need a car to get around. Jump to the end of this post to get my free price-checking worksheet.
Step 1. What are your dates and are they flexible?
I recommend scoping out the rental car scene several months in advance of your trip. You won’t actually be paying for it until the week before (or when you arrive), but it’s good to get the wheels turning early. This also allows you to set up a simple process for price checking which can save you hundreds of dollars.
I usually keep a Google Spreadsheet with this info so that in the coming weeks I can quickly find the info I need, and not have to “re-orient” my self to what’s happening.
In this sample trip, we’ll use the example of going to Florida for one month over the holiday season (yikes!). Dec 15 – Jan 12. Our dates are not “flexible” in that we have flights on either end, but if needed we could return the car early and rent another if there’s a huge price difference. Write down your dates so you remember what you searched for.
Dec 15 4:30pm
Jan 12 5:30am
Step 2. Go to Priceline and search
My first step is usually Priceline, to get a grid of companies and prices as a baseline for my search. Please note, I don’t actually buy through Priceline. Rental cars are very interesting when it comes to travel expenses. They are unlike flights – which you have to pay for way in advance and then pay a change fee if something comes up. Similar to hotels, it’s nice that you can reserve without paying up front, with the option to cancel usually 48 hours before. However with rental cars, you can reserve your car and then never show up and nothing happens. You’re not charged. Now I’m not recommending you do this, it is possible. Rental car companies are also starting to offer a “Pay Now” discount of 5%-ish, but rental cars are still quite unlike any of the other major travel expenses.
I search for TPA airport, and enter in the date/time that gives us enough time before/after our flights. Priceline defaults to “Grid” view, so I click the “List” view option:
The “List” option sorts your results by Lowest price. I now see $32/day, total price $1149, instead of the confusing Grid view which makes it seem like all the cars are $50-80/day range.
$1,150 for a month of car rental is pretty spendy. Hopefully this price will decrease over the coming months.
Step 3. Go to the individual rental car sites to search
My next step is to note which companies are the lowest. Note: EZ Rent-a-car and Advantage are usually top of the list. I’ll pull up their websites and do the same searches that I did at Priceline, noting in my spreadsheet the price. If you’re not happy with the price, also adjust your return times by 30 min to several hours. Sometimes this makes a huge random difference and sometimes it doesn’t at all. Go figure. If my trip is almost a week or month, I’ll also change the dates around slightly just to see if I hit the “weekly” or “monthly” rate discount.
Example: In this case, I’ll be checking Advantage, EZ Rent-a-car, and Dollar. So, I’ll pull up the sites and do the same exact search. I start with Advantage and see that if I switch my search by one day difference, I trigger the month rate of $780/month – which after taxes and fees ends up $1,022.17. This ends up being lower than the other companies.
Step 4. Find coupon codes
Before I click the “Pay Later” option and reserve my car, I will do a quick search online for coupon codes. I’ll search for the car company name + coupon code (eg. “Advantage coupon code” etc). There are often deals for an average of 5-10% off floating around. I’ll note the coupon code and the “new” lower price also in my spreadsheet.
Example: I found one for Advantage DC3180 for 10% off. My new monthly price is $702/mo. or $926.89 including taxes and fees, hopefully for the super adorable Fiat 500.
Step 5. Reserve the lowest option
Even if the price seems a little crazy expensive I’ll make my reservation only. DO NOT enter your payment information. Remember to use the name of the person that will be driving the car if you’re booking for you and a friend or spouse. If the price goes down or you find a better deal elsewhere, you haven’t already paid (unlike if you’d paid at priceline.com) so your options are wide open at this point.
Step 6. Add a reminder in your calendar
Next, I’ll jump into my Google Calendar to remind myself to check prices over the next weeks/months before our trip. I usually check once a month before the trip, and then 2 weeks before, 1 week before, and 2-3 days before. Put these in your calendar, and make sure your spreadsheet or notes will make sense to you when you come back to look at it a month from now. You want to be able to jump in, search, make a note, and be on with your day in a few minutes – not re-orienting yourself and spending an hour searching.
Step 7. Checking 1-30 days before departure and booking
As time progresses, I check the prices one month, 10 days, one week, and five days out, noting the new prices in my spreadsheet. It’s now two days before our trip, so we’ll pull up the spreadsheet for the last time and see what prices are looking like. It’s likely that our price will have gone down 10-60% from when we first checked. Remember, if your booking is for more than 4 weeks, check the prices for exactly 4 weeks and then the extra days. Example: 1 search for 4 weeks and 1 search for 4 days etc. I’ve seen price differences of hundreds of dollars using this approach.
At this point, if you are ready to go with this deal, select the Pay Now option if it will knock off 5% – or something – off your total. Remember to book in the name of the person who will be driving, and the credit card also needs to match the drivers name or they’ll pull all kind of shenanigans when you pick up the car (“You can add another driver for $10. A day. Hell no”)
Step 8. Picking up your car
Remember that if you selected an off airport car rental place sometimes their shuttles are slow and you have to wait. Console yourself with the knowledge that you saved a couple hundred dollars. When you arrive at the rental car place guard yourself that they will likely try to upsell you and possibly try to confuse you. Be calm, zen, but firm. You do not need insurance (so long as you booked with a credit card, that includes insurance, as does your current car insurance at home). You do not need a car upgrade (you picked the cheapest for a reason, better gas mileage!). You do not need GPS or any other silly upgrades (it’s 2014 you have a smart phone). You do not need to add an extra driver. If you decide to do the gas refuel (meaning you’ll be there long enough for it to make sense), just remember to verify that if you forget and fill it up that you won’t be charged for a tank anyway. Usually you just have to tell them at dropoff that you refueled and all is well.
Step 9. Check the car for any damage and you’re on your way!
This finally step can include a delightful sing-song of sorts as you exit the car rental lot “We got an awesome deeeeeal”
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Do you have any tips for saving on car rentals? Leave them in the comments