Sense of Place – Astoria, Oregon

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With no destination in mind – but with a firm desire to road trip – I left my last meeting on Friday with only the open road before me.  I had to get home from Dash Point, Washington to Portland.  This is a quarterly trip so I was used to the routine of getting on I-5 south.  Part of me wanted to get home and be a responsible leaf-raking home owner.

For no reason that I can explain, just north of Centralia I veered off the freeway and headed to the coast.  Ironically – the retreat I had been just attending was all about decision making. My head was full of ethical discernments.  This was spontaneous – absolutely no discerning other than seeing a road sign saying “Aberdeen/Raymond” next exit.

Taking all the anticipation out of this road trip tale – I ended up in Astoria, Oregon for 2 days.  Best decision I have made in quite some time – I must have learned something at that retreat.

Some of the highlights:

Early morning photo shooting in Astoria and exploring this wonderful and historic town – founded in 1811!

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Early morning at the Cannery Hotel

Wave watching at Cape Disappointment (not disappointing!!)

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Buoy Beer for dinner

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And finally, there is this little church about 2 miles west of the Astoria Megler bridge on the way to Ilwaco, Washington that I have passed a hundred times.  It’s in the middle of nowhere but is beautiful in its simplicity and isolation.  I have regretted never stopping and learning the story of this church by the sea.  I stopped.

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St. Mary’s Church, McGowan, Washington

History fans (I am one!) should read Peter Stark’s Astoria – recently released in paperback – for a closer look at the early years of Astoria.

Astoria has transformed from river city with an economy and industry (most significantly fish canneries) reliant on the Columbia River – to an artistic corner of Oregon – focused on tourism and the two mainstays of Oregon – beer and coffee.

The Columbia River is still a strong force.  Cargo ships provide entertainment as their huge hulks pass by the waterfront. And the nautical history is never far away – including the Flavel House Museum (George Flavel was the Columbia’s first river pilot back in 1850).  But you are more likely to see Willapa Bay Oysters featured on area menu’s than Columbia River salmon.

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Travel by book – even better travel by beer!

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Augustiner Bier Hall, Munich, Germany (photo taken during World Cup, 2006)

That whole book thing just opened up a Pandora’s box of opportunity.  And I don’t need any excuses to drink beer (they tried to make me go to rehab but I said no no no) – and only yesterday I was biking through beautiful hop fields in the Willamette Valley.    Beer is always on my mind.

I love books, food, beer, anything that captures a sense of place.

In Portland, there are two places that nail that sense of place beer-wise and German-wise – Stammtisch on SE 28th and their partner spot – Prost on NE Mississippi.  Prost is great and the concept of marrying German beer garden atmosphere with a cart food court is brilliant.  But Stammtisch just takes it one step further with the German food and dark wood paneling to match.

Stammtisch has rotating options for about 18 German beers and they always have one of my favorites – kolsch.  (Drinking kolsch in Cologne, Germany is a whole other post of true beer love) What makes these two places great and authentic is how they pour the beer.  Rinse appropriate glass with water – make initial pour – set beer aside for a few minutes to settle – then top it off and serve.

And with an order of sausage… teutonic heaven.

Sure you can drive over to John’s Market in Multnomah Village, and take a six pack home of any world beer imaginable, but I want to close my eyes and imagine I am back at the Augustiner waiting for a soccer game.