Tacoma WA 5/19 – 5/26

Population = 198,397 (part of the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Metro area with 3,610,000), latitude 47º14’, longitude 122º27’, elevation 25 feet, average January low temperature = 36.6, Average July high temperature = 76, average sunny days = 141, annual snowfall = 8.1”, annual rainfall = 38.8”

The road from Portland to Tacoma reminds me a lot of Minnesota.  The majority of the trees are deciduous and are in full leafy splendor.  The land is mostly flat although, off in the distance in both directions, we can see mountain tops peeking through the rain clouds.  Our drive is in and out of showers most of the day until, finally and thankfully, it clears up just before Tacoma.

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A rainy day in Tacoma. See Mt. Rainier? I don’t.

Tacoma is much smaller than Portland.  The downtown is fairly compact; a long narrow strip.  There is a little parking available here and there, for a fee.  The city is nestled into a valley overlooking a bay.  This is a working bay, full of cargo ships, cranes, large warehouses, and railroads.  The valley is deep so the streets going from hilltop to downtown have a carnival ride slope to them.  Don’t try this town with a manual transmission.

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Headed uphill from the bay. Double check your brakes.

Our first exploration is the Glass Bridge and the Museum of Glass.  The bridge runs 500 feet, from Pacific Ave. downtown, over the freeway, to the Museum of Glass on the shorefront.  The roof and sides of the bridge display dazzling glass sculptures by the great glass artist Dale Chihuly.  The MOG contains more amazing glass sculptures by Chihuly and many others.  The colors and shapes defy imagination and the skill level of techniques approach magic.  On a simpler, cuter level, there is a row of children’s sketches converted into glass that are hilarious.

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The ceiling of the glass bridge contains thousands of glass sculptures.
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A brilliant glass sculpture that reflects and refracts you and the room
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The Sockness Monster eats socks out of the dryer

The next day is another rainy day, so we hunt up something to do inside.  Wright Park, in the Northern section of the city, has a conservatory that sounds nice.  Inside the big glass bubble, plants of every variety are densely packed together in a beautiful jungle of greenery.  Flowers dot the trees and vines; strange trees with huge leaves lurk overhead.  The aroma of the green and growing is as filling as gumbo.  Outside it has quit raining so we set off to hike the park.  Trails pass under towering trees of all kinds.  Flowers surround a pond, decorating the bridge and statue.  Fearless ducks keep a sleepy eye on us as we pass within inches of their napping rock.  Kids tear ass around the park, doing their kid business.

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It’s always summer in the jungle in the conservatory
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Wright Park is a beautiful retreat from the city

Still another rainy day.  I know it is just the day’s weather, not the overall climate, but it is becoming a running joke.  “We have heard there is a big mountain nearby but we have not seen it yet.”  Low, grey horizons again.  So we do a little shopping to resupply some of our basics.  After the no-sales-tax luxury of Oregon, the Washington State taxes are especially offensive.  Especially, especially, EXTRA offensive liquor taxes.  But we happen to find a Safeway with some liquor on sale at half price so we stock up on that.

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Are those mountains over there? Hard to tell.
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This smells like about 27% in just the State tax. Yikes!!

Later that day, we visit my old pals Kay and Butch.  Really nice to see old friends after so many years.  They have a cozy home in the outskirts with a yard full of big tall trees and flowering shrubs.  The conversation is long and hilarious, the lasagna is delicious.  They are camera shy so sorry, no photos.

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A toast to old friends. Cheers!

The next day we are happy to see clouds but no rain.  Time for more exploring.  The North end of Tacoma and it’s suburbs end in a peninsula, Point Defiance.  This a huge, wild area with massive trees, blankets of ferns and moss, a rocky (cold water!) beach, botanical gardens, and a zoo.  The Five Mile Road meanders around the park through a green canopy of trees and offers scenic overlooks of the bay.  Ocean-going cargo ships chug steadily by, on the way to the Ends of the Earth.

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Scenery along the Five Mile Road
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Watching the tourists drive by
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Sailing around the many islands near Tacoma

Back  into downtown again, this time to see LeMay’s America’s Car Museum.  The building is arranged much like a parking ramp.  Each floor has a ramp leading down to the next level below.  Starting on the fourth floor, we stroll past about 350 cars, all beautifully preserved, restored, shiny as a summer day.  There are some of the very first cars ever made.  There are some of the cars from the early 1900s that converted America from horse to automobile. Here are a row of the 1950s sweet rides everyone loved.  There are the 1970s muscle cars.  Unusual cars, experimental cars, race cars.  The displays go on and on and, if you remember driving your first car, you will probably find one just like it here.

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Vehicles like these started America’s love for its cars.
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Favorites from the 50s

After a hard day of checking out cars, we decide it is Beer O’Clock again, so we set off to explore the Brewery District.  Kind of a funny thing though, the pamphlet we got from Visitor Info has a little map of the Brewery District, but there are no breweries there!  Fortunately, there are still  breweries a few blocks away.  Our noses lead us to the historic Pacific Brewing and Malting Co., where they actually malt the barley and brew the beer.

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This is how I stay so healthy

It is hard to stick a pin in Tacoma and say it is this or that.  The downtown has the old historic and the shiny new and the under renovation.  It is a city unto itself, yet it is another city in the seamless urban area that stretches from Seattle to Olympia.  Rush hour clots the freeway, jams up a few main streets, and trickles through some of the side streets.  Everything you could need, from the funky little mom-n-pop shops to the big box stores are to be found somewhere within the sprawling city limits.  If it just wasn’t for all those damn taxes…

Next up: Walla Walla WA

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Portland, OR 5/7 – 5/19

Population = 619,360 (part of the Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton Metro area with 2,348,247), latitude 45º31’, longitude 122º40’, elevation 79 feet, average January low temperature = 36.6, Average July high temperature = 79, average sunny days = 144, annual snowfall = 3.3”, annual rainfall = 42.4”

Turning back to Interstate 5, we head North to Portland.  The valley is getting wider and flatter, the mountains backing off into the near distance, the valley floor getting broad and flat and covered with the lush, boisterous carpet of greenery that swaddles Oregon.  We get our first look at icy Mount Hood, towering over the rest of the nearby mountains like an enormous croquembouche dusted with sparkling powdered sugar.

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Mount Hood peaks at 11,249 feet

Soon though, the Interstate turns into intercity freeway, and traffic slows to a crawl.  Our GPS gives us confusing directions about “bearing right” and “turning right”.  We cross a long, high bridge and find we have to cross another one downstream to get back to the right part of the city.  Our rental is in the Southeast section of the city.  Portland is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own character and style.

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Downtown Portland as viewed from the Aerial Tram

My first impression of Southeast is that it is an older neighborhood with narrow streets and very little parking, constipated by overwhelming traffic, complicated by numerous one-way streets.  Most cities have extra wide thoroughfares lined with businesses, separated by several blocks of residential properties on narrower streets.  Portland did not get that memo.  Most of the streets here are narrow with only curbside parking.  Favorite restaurants flood nearby streets for blocks with parkers.  The homes here look about 1920s to 1930s vintage, some of them very beautifully kept.  What is really striking about the homes are the garden lawns.  Lots of homes have yards consisting entirely of flowers, bushes, and trees, without a single blade of grass to mow.  Roses are everywhere, earning Portland the nickname “City of Roses”.

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A typical SE Portland residential street
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Flowers, ferns, bushes, shrubs, no grass.

Marylu’s nephew Colin lives here (in the Northeast section where the streets are wider) and he becomes our tour guide to Portland.  He takes us to see the University of Portland, high above the banks of the Columbia River.  From there we pass over a bridge and climb up the bluff that holds the Pittock Mansion.  I imagine the mansion is beautiful inside, but we are more interested in the view outside.  From here, Portland stretches out in all directions, wearing a belt of sparkling Columbia River passing through the many loops of bridges, a coat of tall trees over a shirt of roses, with Mt. Hood as a party hat.

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The Pittock Mansion, once home to tycoon Henry Pittock

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The tour continues into the Washington Park area.  This is another high butte, wild and well forested, that holds the Oregon Zoo, the Hoyt Arboretum, the Portland Japanese Garden, and the International Rose Test Garden, among other attractions.  We try for the Rose Garden but, this being Portland, we find no parking available.  Since it is about Beer O’Clock anyway, we decide to skip the roses and head into the Pearl District downtown.  Here we find an older section of downtown that has been updated, restored, revitalized.  Fine and trendy places to eat and drink are everywhere.  The 10 Barrel Brewery hits the spot with good beer and pub grub.

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Cheers! Colin at the 10 Barrel Brewery

Our next foray with Colin takes us downtown again to Powell’s Bookstore.  This is reputed to be the largest independent new and used bookseller in the world.  They have a parking ramp that is always full but they validate.  Colin has a mountain of books to sell so Marylu and I set out to explore.  Books are sorted by genre, genres have their own room or even floor.  They have maps of the building.  We don’t really need any books to carry around with us, so of course we each buy one.  By then it is Beer O’Clock again so we find our way to yet another brewery for beer and eats.  A local guide to the craft beer breweries lists 96 in Portland, so you can just assume we are visiting many of them.

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Powell’s stairway up to the Gold section, where the SciFi is kept.
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A fine brew after a busy day exploring

Our further expeditions lead Marylu and me out of the city.  Out East of the city there is a park on Powell Butte that promises great panoramic views.  The trail is a long, steep climb with several switchbacks.  There are a few benches but not much shade.  Finally we make it to the top and there is a semicircle of concrete with markers pointing to the mountains; St. Helens, Hood, Adams, Jefferson, and more.

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It was 36 years ago Mt. St. Helens exploded, losing 1000 feet

The next day we set set of for some more urban exploration.  Today we are visiting the Hoyt Arboretum.  This is back in the Washington Park area again but today there is parking.  We get a trail map and set off.  This also turns out to be a lot of climbing. The trails run up and down big hills and valleys.  And our timing is bad.  The rhododendrons are past bloom.  The cherries blossoms are all gone.  But the area is beautiful.  Wildflowers speckle the hillsides everywhere.  Gigantic, 200 year old Douglas Firs create a vivid green canopy overhead that shades the ferns, hostas, and wildflowers.

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Hoyt Arboretum hosts many varieties of flowers
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A tall stand of Douglas Firs in Hoyt

Our next adventure was to go see the Columbia River Gorge.  The Columbia River has, over the millennia, carved a deep valley with high, sheer walls.  A scenic Historic Highway runs along the top of the gorge, affording spectacular views of the valley, the river, and the many waterfalls.  There are a few stops where you can see the waterfalls from the parking lot.  There are also stop that are trailheads where, after a long trek, you can get a more intimate view of waterfalls.  The star of the route though, is the Vista House.  This was built in 1918 on a rocky promontory 733 feet above the Columbia River.  From here, you can see miles and miles of the Gorge and river.

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The Columbia River Gorge is 80 miles long
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Vista House has been a tourist favorite for decades
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Multnomah Falls drops 611 feet

We finally made it to the International Rose Test Garden, on a weekday when there was parking.  This is a 4.5 acre plot of new cultivars of roses being tested for color, fragrance, disease resistance, and other characteristics.  To enter into the park is to be dazzled by the rainbows of roses and other flowering shrubs, bushes, and trees.  The scent of roses is thick and palpable, ranging from musky to lemony to anise.  There are blossoms as small as a marble and as big as a baby’s head.  Stop to admire the perfect bud.  Inhale deeply to savor the subtle aromas, changing so dramatically from bush to bush.

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Roses as far as the eye can see

Other than our explorations in and out of the city, were our many urban commutes to restaurants, breweries, and shops.  The list of restaurants is extensive and includes every ethnic, every price, every attitude from dive to diva.  There are many food truck “pods” around the city where little clusters of them group together, semi-permanently.  From what we saw, I’d say most of the Millennials do not cook.  They prefer to run over to the Latest Place and hang out with their pals; jeans and beard guys, girls in short skirts with piercings and tattoos.  There is status involved in waiting in the longest line to eat.  Sunday Brunch is the power meal around here and everyone has a favorite place to go and wait to eat.

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Some of the best food in Portland comes out of trucks

Portland has so much to offer, it is overwhelming.  If you are a urban hipster (if that term is still current), looking for an area dense with food, transit, opportunity, and, of course, beer, then Portland is for you.  For an older person, like myself, I would much prefer living in the outer edges of the metro area, where I could enjoy the wide streets and easy parking yet still grab the train into the anthill occasionally.

Next up: Tacoma, WA

Eugene OR 4/30 – 5/7

Population = 156,185 (part of the Eugene-Springfield Metro area with 351,715), latitude 44º03’, longitude 123º05’, elevation 1,112 feet, average January low temperature = 33.5, Average July high temperature = 82, average sunny days = 155, annual snowfall = 6”, annual rainfall = 45.7”

Our first day in Eugene was a great introduction to the city.  Unfortunately, we were still staying in hotels, and we had booked the Econo Lodge.  The room stunk of cleanser so we opened the windows, turned the AC to max, and went for a walk.  The urban forest here is amazing.  We are walking through green tunnels, garnished with residential flower gardens.  And we are not alone.  All along our walk, there are lots of other people out for a walk, a bike ride, a skateboard roll, all enjoying the spring night, stopping for dinner and beers at the many fine restaurants and breweries.  Our short walk took us to 3 breweries, set into the neighborhood like chocolate chips in a cookie.

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Good beer and eats at Ninkasi.
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Flower garden in a neighbor’s yard.

The next day (after getting the hell out of that miserable hotel) we set off to explore the city.  Our first stop was Hendricks Park, Eugene’s oldest city park.  It is a short drive, climbing up a big bluff, passing though neighborhoods with charming homes and exuberant flower gardens.  The rhododendron trees are enormous, towering all around and between the 200 year old skyscraper Douglas Firs.  We lucked into the perfect weekend for a visit.  Almost everything is in bloom.  There is a flower for every color of the rainbow.  Besides the rhododendrons, there are multitude of other flowers; fairy bells, camas, candy flowers, mock oranges, flowering currents, bald hip roses, trilliums, and a dazzling array of other flowering trees, vines, and shrubs.

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Flowering trees in Hendricks Park, with Marylu hiding.

Of course, after a hard afternoon of trail hiking, we have to find another brewery.  Upon our arrival in Eugene, we stopped at the Visitor’s Center for local info and got copies of the Eugene Ale Trail guide.  This shows 18 of the Eugene area breweries, with maps, addresses, and web sites.  Each has a rubber stamp for your guide.  Collect 8 stamps and get a free growler.  That is my kind of treasure hunt!

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Eugene Ale Trail features 18 breweries. We found 10.

Back to exploring Eugene, we ascended the road up to Skinner Butte Park.  This butte lies between downtown Eugene and the Willamette River.  From here you can see the whole valley spread out below.  To our left, the University of Oregon (go Ducks!) along the riverfront.  In front of us, a green carpet of urban forest with a few downtown offices peeking through.  To the right, scattered rooftops of homes and businesses glimpsed between the many trees.

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A big O for Oregon U.
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Downtown Eugene

Amongst the many things on the “Things To Do” list from TripAdvisor, we found something unusual; a Raptor Rehab Center.  It is a bit of a drive, South and winding through what I guess would be the suburbs of Eugene, a bit higher up the side of the valley.  The homes are newer, the yards bigger, but still overflowing with the resplendent flower gardens we find everywhere here.  The Raptor Center is perched on a hillside in the deep forest.  There is a little “village” of cages for the birds, with mulched paths leading through them.  These are large and beautiful birds; majestic bald eagles, solemn owls, colorful hawks.  They gaze back intensely as we stop to admire them.

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Stlll more exploring.  Today, the first thing we check out is the Owen Rose Garden.  This is an 8 1/2 acre park next to the river.  Every kind of rose imaginable grows profusely here.  Big ones with petals crowded into cupped blooms.  Small ones with wide open blooms like daisies.  And between the rose bushes, trees, and vines, are flowers of all kinds and colors.  The scents are wonderful.

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Entrance to the Rose Gardens

We have heard a lot abut the rocky coastline of Oregon so we decided to take a day trip to go see for ourselves.  Our drive takes us through beautiful green tunnels of lush trees, past rivers, over foothills.  When we get to Florence though, we find not rocks but sand.  They have enormous sand dunes along the coast there.  Not what we were expecting, but still very beautiful and majestic in its scale and sweep.  We drive a little further North along the coastal highway and find more sand but also stunning views from the overlooks.

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On the road to Florence
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The sand dune coast

Eugene is one of those rare and beautiful cities that you just want to savor for a while.  The center of the city is like a huge nature park with giant trees and flower gardens everywhere.  There are always lots of people outside, walking, biking, hanging out on patios, enjoying the sweet weather and fine scenery.  It all seems very civilized and relaxed, but still cooperative.  I am amazed by the people on bicycles.  They are everywhere, and have their own bike lanes, and they actually stop and yield at intersections.  Compared to the spandex geeks in Minneapolis who routinely blow through stop signs with an imperious glare at us lesser mortals who drive cars, these are urban angels.  I am happy to share the road with people like this.

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A typical street in the urban forest of Eugene

Put Eugene on the short list.  We will be back to this town for a much longer stay someday.

Next up: Portland, OR

Highway 5 4/23/16 – 4/30/16

From Oakhurst, our road leads us back down the mountains, the foothills, the flat valley, and finally the farming district.  Row upon row of trees stretch to the far horizons, where mountains are still visible, standing guard over the valley from far away.

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Trees of all types and sizes line the Highway corridor.

We have been offered free use of a cabin in Incline Village, which is located near Lake Tahoe, NV.  The drive is a bit long for one day though, so we decide to stop over in Sacramento for a night before pushing on.  Our hotel is right on the Sacramento River and a few steps away from the Riverwalk Park.  After a half day in a car, it is a pleasure to get out and stretch our legs with a walk along the river and into the Old Sacramento area.  And after a long walk, what better place to wet our whistles than the Ruhstaller Brewery, a few blocks away?

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The Old Sacramento district preserves last century’s style.
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A fine old historic brewery.

Upon returning to our hotel room though, we get some bad news.  According to the ski reports, the Lake Tahoe area just got between 14 and 20 inches of snow.  I watch the local weather and do some online double checks and find that the new snow layer goes from 8” near the lake, to up to 24” on the mountain tops.  Tough choice, but I am not going to risk life and limb to drive mountain roads buried in fresh snow.  (thanks for photo to momgrind.com)

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Fresh snow at Lake Tahoe. Good skiing, bad driving.

One thing all this travel has done for us is to make us adaptable.  We get on the internet and check all the usual home rental sites but nobody has anything we would want to stay in for any length of time.  Plan B is hotels.  Our next stop is a hotel in Redding.  Redding is a nice valley  town.  (population 90,998) The people here love it in their scenic city.  It is big enough to have most everything but not so big as to be jammed up with lots of commuters.  The downtown is clean and walkable.  From our hotel we can easily walk to restaurants and a brewery.

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A good selection of beers and friendly people.
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Good food and good beer at Woody’s.

Highway 5 continues Northward through some very scenic country.  We pass over Lake Shasta, catching a glimpse from the tall bridge.  We pass under majestic Mount Shasta.  We climb up mountains and coast down the other side, admiring the tall, tall pines scraping the sky.  Our next stop is Medford, OR. (population 71.303)  It seems larger than Redding but that is because it is  more sprawled.  Many of it’s workers live in the little towns nearby and drive in, so it does have rush hours.  Downtown Medford is fairly compact but it has grown in all directions.  Some of it is still quaint, some is ordinary, some is just shabby.

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Lake Shasta as seen from the Interstate 5 bridge.
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Mount Shasta rises 14,179 feet, towering over the Interstate.

Our favorite day trip was to Jacksonville, where we found a sweet little village with quaint shops, a beautiful park, and a great German restaurant and brewery.  Prost!

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Quaint little Jacksonville, decked in spring flowers.
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Dining alfresco at Frau Kemmling Schoolhaus Brewhaus.

Medford was one of our cities that looked promising on paper.  The climate is mild, winter and summer.  It is not too isolated.  It is about the right size.  It has everything that the average American needs to live a good life.  But somehow, it seemed a bit off.  To me, it felt like a city on the downslide.  Too many rudderless 20-somethings and not enough good jobs.  I don’t want to disparage the good people of Medford, but I did not feel the welcome there.

Next up: Eugene OR