Travel

Traveling to Armenia with ARARAT Brandy

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I’ve hiked the Rockies, danced all night in Spanish ruins, and soaked in secret lagoons in Iceland surrounded by wild horses and bubbling earth; I’ve toured swamps deep in the bayou, broken bread with the locals in the mountains of Galicia, and kayaked the bioluminescent waters of Puerto Rico. I count myself lucky to have visited the places I’ve been – much of it through my role as a blogger for Bit by a Fox. With each new adventure I realize how much of the planet I have yet to see, and it leaves me wanting to discover more. After a trip I remain on a high for weeks, if not months, continuing to summon up the food and drink and people and culture that I was just immersed in.

My recent trip to Armenia was an especially extraordinary one that continues to sustain me. I was there to visit the 130-year-old ARARAT Brandy company with four other writers.

This trip was as much about experiencing the ancient city of Yerevan and the Armenian culture as it was about familiarizing ourselves with a spirit that is so intrinsic to its home country.

Having never been to that part of the world, I was a little nervous about what to expect. But, once there, I was surprised by how quickly I’d fallen for it. I found myself trying to compare Armenia to other places I’d been…

There was something familiar about the massive European-like plazas and bustling sidewalk cafes, the vineyards akin to Southern Spain, the dramatic mountain ranges much like the Pacific Northwest, and the Mediterranean-style olives and cheeses and spreads.

But so much was unlike anywhere else I’d ever been. As the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, the Armenian capital of Yerevan wears its political history in its architecture, like layers of clothing in different states of repair; A mix of ultra modern structures all built within the last 20 years is juxtaposed against buildings dating back to the Russian Empire through the Soviet Era.

Yerevan is known as “The Pink City” because many of the buildings were constructed from pink stones taken from lava rock found in the surrounding area, giving the impression of a rose-colored city set aglow at that magic hour before sunset.

It’s only been 26 years since Armenia was granted independence from the Soviet Union, and Yerevan feels very much like a city that is going through an exciting metamorphosis, still undiscovered by American tourists.

Despite this cosmopolitan transformation, the soul of ancient Armenia remains – modern art sits alongside sacred structures, sophisticated boutiques share space with traditional rug vendors, and while acapella voices fill ancient temples with classical music during the day, jazz clubs light up the night.

Ok, so Armenia is beautiful and special and this trip was an exciting one and all but…how is the brandy?! The thing is, I can’t talk about the brandy until I talk about Armenia. ARARAT Brandy claims to be the “Symbol of Armenia” and if ever there was a spirit that represented a culture, this is it. Ask any Armenian, it is the pride and jewel of the nation.

From the moment you land in the Zvartnots International Airport, you are inundated with billboards, and banners above the gates, and sexy videos of slow-mo brandy flowing into snifters playing on loop hovering just above each ticket line. Upon entering the city of Yerevan, some of the first buildings you see clustered high on a hill, looming large over the capital city and the Hrazdan river, will most likely be The Yerevan Brandy Company. This is where the parent company of ARARAT Brandy has its headquarters, distillery and ARARAT Museum and Visitor Center. It made sense that this was our first stop on what would be an epic, brandy-filled visit.

The ARARAT Museum and Visitor Center is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Armenia. Guides conduct tours 7 days a week in Armenian, Russian, English, French and German.


People from all over the world leave their mark here.

Including us!

Now, about that brandy…

While ARARAT’S brandy range spans 3 years to over 30, a tasting at the visitor center will most likely include three of their most popular: Akhtamar (10 years), Nairi (20 years) and Dvin (Collection Reserve) – said to be Winston Churchill’s favorite brandy.

ARARAT is made in a Cognac style, double distilled and matured in oak barrels made in Yerevan Brandy Company’s workshop from trees over 70 years old. Each expression has its own personality, but I’ve found ARARAT in general to be slightly softer and floral than a lot of Cognacs. The ten-year old Akhtamar is rich, with dried fruit and big exotic spices coming through. The Nairi is my personal favorite. It is voluptuous and complex and intense with delicate oak lingering. Winston Churchill’s favorite brandy is said to have been the exclusive ARARAT Dvin. Aged longer in oak casks, it has a heavy tobacco quality, not unlike Churchill’s other favorite vice, cigars! Nutty, coffee notes and rich cooking spices come through.

The day after our distillery visit and tasting, we spent an afternoon in a vineyard under the commanding presence of Mount Ararat, the symbol of Armenia, said to be the resting place of Noah’s Ark.

Only Armenian grapes can be used in the production of ARARAT Brandy.

We had the opportunity to get acquainted with these native grapes fed by 300 days of Armenian sunshine that thrive in high altitude and their dry climate.

Our visit was just after harvest season and we were able to witness truckloads of these small, sweet white grapes get pressed. Exciting stuff!

After familiarizing ourselves with everything that goes into the production of ARARAT Brandy, we were led on a comprehensive tour of Yerevan and its countryside, with stops at historic monuments and ancient temples.

Each meal better than the next. With plenty of ARARAT Brandy involved.

Our last night culminated in a dinner with the international ARARAT team and Russian media celebrating ARARAT’S 130 year anniversary, and an unveiling of its Single Cask bottle. A special end to a trip for the ages.

I’ll be carrying this visit to Armenia and my experience with ARARAT Brandy with me as I do all of the places that have touched me and changed me so profoundly. The people, the culture and the heart of its nation, their brandy, will forever stay with me.

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Around the World in 90 Days

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What do you plan to do over the next 3 months?   One man set out on one of the most epic adventures around the world including four of the wonders of the world, and four of the largest festivals on earth. The trip stretched from The Amazon to Mount Everest, with countless destinations in between: all in 90 days.

Chase Boehringer woke up one morning and decided he was tired of working every day at the same job, and feeling like he was living an average mediocre life. He set out to make a change in his life, and began mapping out his once in a life time trip around the world.

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Trip itinerary beginning February 5th:

  • New Orleans- Mardi Gras
  • San Andres Island, Colombia
  • Medellin, Colombia
  • Bogota, Colombia
  • Lima, Peru
  • Cusco, Peru
  • Aguas Calientes, Peru – Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu
  • Iquitos, Peru- Amazon Jungle with a shaman on a spiritual journey
  • Rome, Italy- The Colosseum
  • Munich, Germany- Beerfest
  • Paris, France- Eiffel Tower
  • Dublin, Ireland- St. Patricks Day!
  • Iceland- drove across the entire country and saw the Northern Lights and Blue lagoon
  • New Delhi, India- The Holi Festival
  • Agra, India- The Taj Mahal
  • Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Lukla, Nepal- Trekked to Mt. Everest Base Camp with a sherpa and summited Kala
  • Patther which is 1,000 ft higher than EBC.
  • Bangkok, Thailand- Thai New Years and The three day Songkran Water Festival!
  • Koh Samui, Thailand
  • Koh Phangan, Thailand-The Full Moon Party!
  • Koh Tao, Thailand- Scuba Diving certificate
  • Hong Kong, The Great Wall of China in Beijing

Return home on May 5th.

“I went on this adventure because I had worked my entire life in jobs that I was unhappy with. I was done with it. I worked incredibly hard to save up enough money and studied travel hacking to learn how to get free flights and hotels before the trip,” said Boehringer.

“ I had been thinking about doing this trip for a long time but it wasn’t until I sat down and figured out what changes in my work and my life are necessary to make it actually happen. That feeling that there’s something more to life was eating at me and I just couldn’t put it off any longer.”

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Among all of the destinations on Boehringer’s list, he said he found Iceland to be the most beautiful, and Thailand to be his favorite. Thailand is a long country with each region being vastly different. He found that each area had its own unique energy and feel, and surprisingly everything was fairly inexpensive.

“I have travel A.D.D. and I usually get a little wanderlust after 5 days to a week in a city. I love to keep moving and exploring. Some people love to spend months in each city but I just can’t do that,” said Boehringer.

“I love to see, taste and experience as much as I can in a short amount of time and then keep moving. It takes a lot of energy, but it’s the best way to travel in my opinion. Some countries you could spend months in and still feel like you haven’t seen enough, like India or Thailand.”

Boehringer took only about 3 weeks to plan this trip, he created a bucket list outlining the direction he would move in during his trip around the world. This list included 100 things that he wished to accomplish.

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“I researched all of the biggest festivals in the world and when they would be happening and outlined in a way where I can hit as many as possible on those specific dates as I move around the world. I also decided to do as epic of things I could possibly do In each to country,” said Boehringer.

This incredible journey is definitely one for the record books, not only in the amount of places he traveled but also in the short amount of time he accomplished that traveling in.

**He created a compilation of his trip you might enjoy!

This Year: European Capitals – Because They’re worth it

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Let’s face it, Europe is one heck of a long way.  It’s expensive to get there, it’s expensive when you’re there and hey there’s so much of our own country that you haven’t even seen yet.  So why do so many of us do it?  What’s the point? You’ve seen all these places in the movies anyway.  Is it all it’s cracked up to be?  Well let me try and persuade you that yes it is all that it’s cracked up to be and that there’s nothing unpatriotic about enjoying a few European cities.  So put your doubts aside for a minute and consider what’s on offer back in the old countries where so many of us came from.  

Paris

I’ll start with the obvious one, Paris France, that big old romantic cliché that has seduced so many Americans.  Stroll about the streets of Paris, and if the weather’s decent it’s a great city for strolling, and you’ll soon feel that every cent that you spent getting there was worth it.  It’s partly that you’re surrounded by buildings older than anything we’ve got over here and it’s partly that those famous sights are famous for a reason: I defy you to stand beneath the Eiffel Tower and not be impressed by this incredible structure.  Paris of course is stuffed with famous art and that may or may not be your thing but it’s so much more than just a giant museum, it’s a completely different way of life and it’s a memory you’ll always carry with you.  

Now if you go to Rome you’re going to get something completely different.  I reckon you can always tell a lot about a place by the kind of river that runs through it: the Seine is broad and majestic, the buildings on either side a series of grand palaces; the Tiber, that runs through Rome, flows in a deep trench, it boils and spits and forces its way between rocks. It’s as though the temperaments of the two nations are reflected in their rivers. Paris is laid out like a chess board, it’s neat and orderly, Rome is all over the place and you never know what you’re going to find around the corner.  Right in the middle of everything you’ve got these huge ruins: the Colosseum and the Forum.  Absolutely amazing.  

London

Fly to London and you’ve got something different again.  The river Thames is busy like the city.  It’s not drop dead gorgeous like Paris, it’s not dramatic and a little bit hysterical like Rome, it’s a mish-mash of old and new, it’s about as multi-cultural as you’ll get but at the same time just so British and a lot more fun than you might think.  Have I convinced you? Probably not.  Every European city is different and every single one will give you something special.  If you’ve got the cash you can stay in some wonderful old hotels or if you want to save a bit of money try a short term let or if you really want to save money and meet the locals you could take a chance on air b&b.  Whatever trip you plan, whichever European cities you decide to visit, I promise you that you’ll collect a whole load of great memories.

The Essentials Needed For Your Trip To Europe

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The Essentials Needed For Your Trip To Europe

Whether you’re heading abroad for a quick weekend break or a week in the Alps, there are some essentials you simply either can’t or don’t want to leave behind. While the specifics may change – winter jacket or shorts, for instance – these essentials are the kind of things which can easily be overlooked. Don’t miss out because you forgot to pack the 5 essentials you need for your trip to Europe.

Your passport

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While this may seem incredibly obvious, how you treat your passport is vital to your success overseas. If you’re travelling with kids, do not let them pack or carry their passport – keep all of the passports you need together in one, easy to reach location. While you’re at it, make sure you take a photo/keep a scan of your passport’s photo page on your phone, along with any pertinent visa pages you may need. This way if you lose your passport you aren’t left entirely up the creek without a paddle.

The travel adaptor/extension combo

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One of the worst things about travelling anywhere, domestically and internationally, is trying to find one more plug in the hotel room. This is frustrating enough when you’re using the same three-pin plug that we all know and love here in the UK – when you consider the fact that Ireland is the only other country in Europe using our plug, things become a little more complicated.

If you want to simplify the process of plugging in the right number of appliances, get yourself a universal travel adaptor and a British extension cable. This way you’re able to use all of your appliances with the minimum amount of hassle.

The right currency

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If life in the UK proves anything it’s that not all countries in the EU use the Euro. If you’re travelling to Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania or Sweden, your Euros won’t get you very far. If you’re stopping through one of these countries and a country using the Euro, make sure you bring both currencies with you – while you can change your Euros on the go, you will probably find that you’re getting worse rates by using an intermediary currency.

Medication

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While you may not want to think about the possibility of getting sick on your holiday, it happens more often than you may expect. Headaches, vomiting and diarrhoea are the most common travel illnesses, and you can bring medication with you to quell the effects of any of these problems. When it comes to your travels around the continent, it’s far better have and not need anti-diarrhoeal drugs than need and not have.

While you’re at it, make sure that you have a valid European Health Insurance Card. Your EHIC will grant you access to state-funded healthcare should you be unlucky enough to fall ill, saving you from a mountain of expensive medical bills if you find yourself hospitalised. On top of this, given that many travel insurance policies for the UK require that you have a valid EHIC on your person, this isn’t something you want to forget about.

Space

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Last but not least, make sure you don’t leave the UK with a full bag unless you’re after dropping off presents at the other end. The chances are that you will want to buy presents souvenirs somewhere along the way, or that the magnetic appeal of the Duty Free will get the better of you. If you’re looking to stock up on goodies during your trip to the continent, travel light so that you have space to fill on the way back.

Frontier Airlines to Leave EUG

frontierEUGENE, Ore. — The Eugene Airport announced Tuesday that Frontier Airlines will leave the Eugene market at the end of November after a two-season run at the airport.

Airport officials said Frontier began its service with seasonal service between its Denver hub and the Eugene Airport. At the time they said Frontier was owned by Republic Airways Holdings, but in December 2013 it was sold to private equity firm Indigo Partners.

“This is definitely a disappointment,” said Eugene Airport Director Tim Doll, AAE. “But given the ownership change, and what appears to be a recent move by Frontier away from smaller markets to larger markets, it is not surprising.”

The airport said Frontier represents 4 percent of the Eugene market share.

Watch KEZI 9 News Midday at 11 a.m. for more on this developing story.

LCGG: Sandpines Golf Links

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Sandpines is a legitimate golf destination. Designed by Rees Jones, it was named Best New Public Golf Course in America when it opened in 1993 and has received numerous other awards and accolades since. In 2006 the clubhouse was added, along with the stunning Tavolo Restaurant and Lounge.

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Naturally sculpted, the course looks effortless. It’s as though some grass was planted, a few trees were removed and then someone dug a few holes.

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The flow of the course is surreal. Each hole is unique, which I guess came as a surprise because the vegetation was so uniform. Every blade of grass was exactly as long as it should be. It was obvious that serious care is taken to keep the course in excellent condition.

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Sandpines checks all the boxes of a traditional links course. It’s near the ocean, built on sand and players face constant wind. Bunkers at Sandpines are so deep and frequent you’ll want to keep a headlamp and some climber’s rope in your bag so you can get back out.

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Though the fairways, rough and bunkers look and feel like a traditional Scottish links, the course is distinctly Oregon. Stunted pines, a staple of the Oregon Coast, line many fairways and frame tee boxes. Rhododendrons make up much of the underbrush you’ll be rummaging through to find any errant tee or approach shot, and wide ponds play a prominent role on many holes.

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The first few holes of the course are very open and players are able to see quite a distance, which gives the initial illusion of the course being somewhat flat.

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It is an illusion, because many holes play with serious elevation changes. Even when the course isn’t changing elevation it has many “hillocks and undulations” which provide variety and a sense that the main architect responsible for the course layout was Mother Nature, not Rees Jones.

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Sandpines, like many other courses near the ocean, has ideal playing conditions year-round. Freezing temperatures are rare at the coast, and because Sandpines is built on sand drainage is excellent. You would have to look very hard to find any mud at Sandpines.

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The styling and branding at Sandpines is professional and understated; reminiscent of what I’ve come to expect from downtown Portland law firms. It’s the simple things. Like the clean and minimalistic scorecards, free from the ubiquitous course map. It reminded me of a menu with no prices; it asks you to just play golf and promises you will enjoy it. And I did.

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The difficulty of the course can vary dramatically based on which of the five sets of tees you choose to play from. A single group comprised of experienced and novice golfers can play a round together, have fun and feel like they were each appropriately challenged.

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Location, style, well manicured and a reasonable challenge: all of this makes Sandpines a perfect place to bring groups for functions like business retreats and fundraisers.

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It’s a course that will impress.

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Only about an hour drive from Eugene, and less than three hours from Portland, it’s remote enough to make visitors feel like they’ve gotten away, but close enough that no one will be burned out from traveling.

Sandpines has banquet facilities to accommodate up to one hundred people and outdoor spaces large enough for more than that. It can handle most post tournament luncheons and raffles or the typical team-building exercise to compliment your company’s achievements on the course. With tournament and group packages available, Sandpines can meet the needs of most groups.

The staff at Sandpines is willing to help their clients with their more, well, unique requests. During my round, on a wide flat are of the 18th fairway between the large pond and some hills about 75 yards in front of the green, I noticed large circles painted onto the grass. They were only just beginning to fade and couldn’t have been more than a few days old. “Hmm, that’s an interesting way to mark a drop zone,” I thought. When I returned to the clubhouse after my round I asked Dick Shores, Director of Golf at Sandpines, about his unique drop zone. He laughed and said it was a drop zone of sorts, but more than that it was an interesting take on your average closest-to-the-pin challenge. You see, players at a recent tournament, rather than hitting shots to the target in the fairway, tried to drop their ball closest to the middle of the target…from a helicopter.

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After hearing that I assumed if a client could dream it up Sandpines can probably make it happen.

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Each hole at Sandpines is distinct except one: the home hole is a clear riff on the 18th at TPC Sawgrass. The fairway curves left, hugging the water nearly from tee to green. I guess if Sandpines was going to pay any amount of homage with its design to another course, TPC Sawgrass wasn’t the worst choice to imitate.

Sandpines is beautiful. I believe it is well worth the cost of $55 a round for Oregon and Washington residents during the summer. If you are planning your next trip to the coast, your next fundraiser or your next corporate retreat I recommend working a round at Sandpines into your schedule. You will not be disappointed.

— Mark Apker, Eugene Daily News

LCGG: Fiddler’s Green

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Fiddler’s Green is a golf destination, even if it is an atypical one.

When I arrived at Fiddler’s the first thing I noticed was the gigantic rectangular building jutting out from the course. To be fair, it was pretty hard to miss. Though, I guess it would have to be to have earned the title “Largest on course Pro Shop in America.”

When I first spoke with Al Whalen, Owner and General Manager at Fiddler’s Green, I had to ask him what made the Pro Shop so special that it could thrive in a relatively remote location? Al pointed to several factors which he believed gave the Pro Shop at Fiddler’s an advantage over their competition.

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He was very proud of his staff and the environment they had created at Fiddler’s for people to try out clubs.

Al said “Fiddler’s is a great place for rookie as well as more experienced golfers, because our staff knows how to steer you. They are not pressure salespersons who’s aim it is to get you to purchase the hottest equipment regardless of how it fits your game.” There is no fitting fee at Fiddler’s, and their staff act as neutral arbiters guiding you to your ideal equipment.

The building and land at Fiddler’s are owned outright, so Fiddler’s has relatively low overhead, which translates to lower prices.

The vastness of the Pro Shop at Fiddler’s allows them to carry unique clubs and gear. They have built a reputation as the place to go if you happen to be nearly seven feet tall and want a typical golf club outfitting experience.

Al said “We were able to outfit Clyde Drexler when he was with the Trailblazers because we have clubs for tall people in stock. We carry more of the fringe clubs and apparel; we have size 18 shoes in stock.”

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As Fiddler’s reputation has grown, so has their client base. Al explained that Fiddler’s has a number of unique clients. He told of uber rich (and uber tall) tycoons who will fly their private planes to Eugene from cities around the country, and hop a quick cab to purchase equipment in their sizes and on the shelves. Fiddler’s attracts a number of serious golfers picking equipment up on their way to rounds at Bandon Dunes and other Oregon golf destinations. There are also the people who travel up and down I-5 for business and take the quick detour to Fiddler’s Green because golf is their passion, a way to unwind.

“Men don’t buy much, but they buy their passion” Al explained. And for many golf is a passion, and Fiddler’s makes an effort to cater to all golfers from the experienced to “the rookie.”

I asked Al if there were any other advantages the Pro Shop at Fiddler’s has?

“We have a full driving range and golf course attached, that’s a huge advantage. Rather than hitting into nets which tell you your drive just went 320 yards you are able to go out to the range and see that it’s really only going 260. You get to see how the ball is actually responding to the club.”

After Al’s explanation it became pretty obvious that having a course attached to the shop was indeed a huge advantage. Personally, I would love to try new clubs out in a real environment before I purchased, and what better way than to hit actual shots into real greens? And, although it’s primarily an executive track, the course at Fiddler’s Green is not simply an afterthought.

When I spoke with Al about the role the course at Fiddler’s Green plays in the wider golf spectrum he gave me three reasons for people to drive up Highway 99 just to play the course. He said, “the course is great for beginners, people with time restrictions, and individuals who want to work on their short game.”

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On the day of my visit the course was in impeccable shape; a credit to Ian Daniels, the young but experienced Superintendent. Every shot I hit felt fair. There where no surprises lurking under the surface of the grass. Everything was smooth and well manicured. The grass around the greens was closely mown and easy to chip from and the greens themselves were moderately paced and consistent. Which, considering this is a course that invites people to leave the driver at home and focus more on clubs which can really improve scoring, is exactly what it should be.

Being neither a beginner nor having serious time restrictions I decided to focus on my short game at Fiddler’s. Although the course is primarily par 3’s I was impressed at the intervals of distance from tee to green. Playing, it felt like every hole was 10-15 yards different in length from the hole previous. So, if I hit a 7-iron to the green at the fifth hole, and the sixth was 15 yards shorter, I pulled my 8-iron and made a confident stroke.

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A course that builds confidence is a perfect place to bring less experienced golfers. The rates are reasonable; adults play 9 holes for $9 and 18 holes for $15, juniors and seniors play 9 for $7 and 18 for $12, and range balls are only $1.50/token.

Confidence. It’s such an important word when playing a game as intricate as golf, and I felt like the course at Fiddler’s Green was honest with me and helped build my confidence with each successive shot.

Fiddler’s Green has the tools to make you a better golfer and prepare you for your next big golf outing. It has the Pro Shop to outfit you properly, the course and range to help you work on your shots, and you’ll be building confidence in your game which will carry over to longer and more challenging courses.

Photo Essay: Escaping the Rain

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I recently had the opportunity to travel to Puerto Vallarta. This was my first trip to Mexico and I had a wonderful time. There are some stark differences between this beautiful place and the United States. Here’s some quick observations.

A Warm Welcoming

After going through the usual airport check-in routine (Standing in long lines for customs and baggage claim), you are greeted by Hispanic men carrying shots of tequila and cups of margaritas. This is a genius way to welcome people into your country by the way.

Insane but Professional Drivers

They kind of do their own thing in Mexico when it comes to driving. You can kind of make out where there used to be lines separating lanes on the streets, but at this point, drivers just do whatever the hell they want and somehow, everyone obliges. There’s a method to their madness on the road and everyone just goes along with it.

The cab drivers are especially good. We almost got hit by a motorcycle, car and bus and the drivers are unfazed by it. Bobbing and weaving around vehicles that suddenly stop in the middle of the street, grinding over cobblestone instead of pavement we drive on in the states and avoiding pedestrians on foot or bicycle are a daily occurrence in Puerto Vallarta. These guys could give stunt drivers and New York cab drivers a run for their money.

They Love Their Tequila

I can’t tell you how many tequila shops I saw. In the airport when we arrived and left, in the city when we walked along the beach and in small towns where we hiked. And they love giving out free samples. We tried vanilla, chocolate and strawberry flavors and they were all tasty.

“Almost Free.”

Puerto Vallarta relies heavily on tourism and you can’t walk a mile anywhere without someone on the street or the beach trying to sell you something. There’s everything from jewelry, hats and blankets to wooden palm trees, bracelets and specially made bowls (Like the University of Oregon one I got!)

You kindly say “No Gracias” to them, but a number of times, they would say “almost free” in an attempt to sell you something. For many of these people, it’s probably the only english they know, but it’s still an effective selling point. For a majority of them, this is how they make their living and they will do so by any means necessary. After a while it can get a little annoying, but the people were never pushy. They seemed happy that we were visiting their beautiful country.

It was a fun trip full of warm weather, many alcoholic beverages, delicious food and picturesque scenery. I’ve included some photos I took of my trip below.

 

The Book Monster Vol. 14

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To Build A Fire…

I’ve been traveling a lot lately and that means I’ve been reading a lot on Airplanes. I came prepared for all my flights with books and magazines, but I still found time to read the ridiculous and amusing Skymall catalog and after browsing through it a few times I have set my heart on these book ends.

While I was in Minnesota I dropped by Half Price Books, which is a bookstore chain that prices  new books well below half price, and yes, I bought a few books. The Book Monster recommends if you’re ever traveling to a city with a Half Price Books you make a visit and expand your library. Even if you don’t buy any books their Rare Books and Collectibles section would be worth your time.

Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, is publishing a children’s book, and it will hit bookshelves next September. The book will be about a girl whose father has been deployed to the Vietnam War. I’m interested to see how this book will be received by the kids whose parents have gone to Iraq and Afghanistan.

To prepare our Boy Scout troop for a snow campout on Mt. Hood my scoutmaster, and father, read  To Build a Fire by Jack London to us scouts. This well written survival story about winter travel in Alaska has a special place in my imagination, and I always think about it when I go on my winter adventures in the Cascades. A few years ago I bought London’s “To Build a Fire and Other Stories” and the gritty stories explore man’s instinct to survive at all costs. Many of the stories take place in Alaska but others take place in the Pacific islands, California. Another favorite story in this book titled The Strength of the Strong is about an ancient civilization’s conflicts with other tribes. Re-reading the title-story of this book has a become a winter tradition of mine. 

What if you could taste people’s emotions in the food they cooked? In Aimee Bender’s novel “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” an adolescent girl’s life is turned upside down when her mother’s unhappiness begins to ruin every meal. This book is a smooth read with excellent writing. It explores human relationships and the way we deal with problems. Even though a lot of the food in this book is tied up with sadness and other emotions, I got hungry whenever I read the book.

 

“Holidays on Ice” by David Sedaris is not filled with cheese like a lot of other books about Christmas. The book begins with SantaLand Diaries, which chronicles the author’s experience as an elf at Macy’s in New York City. The book continues with absurdly-humorous holiday stories that may resemble the holidays more closely than a Richard Paul Evans book. The book is short, but sweet as a Christmas cookie. Snuggle-up next your Christmas tree, read this book, and you’ll be ready for the holidays.

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Photo Essay: A Eugenean in Cambodia

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By Maria Anderson, EDN

Cambodia is a country that is not without its problems. The brutal Khmer Rouge Regime, a China-backed Communist group, wiped out nearly a quarter of the population in the 1970’s. Today Cambodia struggles with many issues, many of which the people I spoke with attribute to the Khmer Rouge, the subsequent Vietnam occupation, and results of instability over the past forty years. Many people don’t have access to clean water or healthcare. At the same time, people smile a lot. Kids ask if you listen to Justin Bieber, and yell hello from their stilted homes as you float by on the Mekong River.

Before the nation of Cambodia existed, kings of the Khmer Empire built what would be the seat of their power for nearly six centuries. Today these temples attract almost one million people every year. The temples contain a mishmash of religious influences, including Hinduism, animalism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Theravada Buddhism. Reclining Vishnus, bas-reliefs detailing bloody wars, and Indra riding his white elephant appear appear in ancient halls. Lotus flowers are carved by the thousands into walls. The jungle is slowly reclaiming some temples. Strangler figs and other plants grow into the stonework. Tarantulas and other spiders roam the temple walls, as well as pea-sized frogs, millipedes, and snakes. At the end of the day you can see the tour guides and other people who make their living working in the temples biking or riding their motorcycles over the bridge home.

Full Story:  A Eugenean in Cambodia: Rice, Ruins and the Khmer Rouge