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Have a Very Beery Christmas: Portland’s Annual Holiday Ale Fest

December 19, 2013 in Christmas Literary Traveler, Literary Food, Weekend Getaways, Winter Travel

If you should find yourself in Portland, Oregon, or the Pacific Northwest, next holiday season, you may want to consider dropping in on one of the most iconic beer festivals the city has to offer. The Holiday Ale Festival, the only beer fest brave enough to set up outdoors in December, has become a Portland winter tradition.

I was lucky enough to be in Portland to attend this year’s 18th Annual event, have a chat with organizer Preston Weesner, and test out some of the 50+ local seasonal brews offered. And I was not disappointed. The festival stakes its claim in Pioneer Square downtown, maxing out two tent rental companies, according to Weesner, installing 15 heating units and even gutters for the rain (critical in a place where rain falls pretty consistently during the winter months.)

“We essentially set up a small city in three days, have the festival for five, and tear it down, leaving no trace that we were ever there in the following 24 hours,” said Weesner.

It was shockingly comfortable for an outdoor venue. The ambient lighting and wafting aromas of roasted nuts blended with the sounds of laughter and cheers from bundled up strangers-turned-familiar faces to create a cozy and warm feeling for which December winds were no match. The dozens of ales tasted and tested that day may have helped too.

Ranging from spiced ales to stouts and porters, ciders and imperial brews, this festival offered a mind-blowing variety, but certainly was not the place for the faint of heart (i.e. light beer drinkers). With names like “You’ll shoot yer eye out kid,” “PantyHose,” and “Yo Baba Gaba,” to name a minuscule sampling, picking out which beers to try and finding them in the three levels of festivity was almost as fun as actually tasting them.

When asked about the imaginative names and intricate stories behind the ales, Weesner, who writes the beer descriptions for Cascade Brewery, admits that some are very creative, but stresses the importance of telling what’s in the brew.

“My descriptions may not be as elegant,” says Weesner, “but they tell what it tastes like. That’s more important.”

As a beer fan, I have to agree, although I do love a good story behind the name. We literary travelers are always looking for deeper meaning, aren’t we?

The thing that makes this festival so unique, besides the fact that it is the only one insane enough to set up outside in the middle of winter, is the fact that most of the brews aren’t available for sale. Many of them are aged with the finesse a fine wine would receive and can’t be found in any bars or stores. It’s a good dress rehearsal for beers that breweries are considering releasing and a good draw for the beer nerd who has tried everything out there.

“I’m a beer geek, always have been,” confirms Weesner. “I’m trying to create the best beer event that I would ever want to go to.”

The downside for Weesner is that, with all the hard work he puts in, he doesn’t get to take part in the fun of the Festival. Instead, he must enjoy vicariously through the guests and their good times.

In a place like Portland, a place making a real name for itself on the food and beer circuit, a place of many festivals, a place that has often been referred to as “Beervana,” it takes a little something special to stand out among the crowd. The Holiday Ale Fest averages 17,000 attendees each year, and based on my Saturday visit, did not look as if it would fall short in the 2013 season. And while natives comprise most of the Festival’s attendance, Weesner tells me that a solid 26% of ticket purchasers come from outside of the Portland Metro area, stretching all across the country.

“Many people travel to this because there’s nothing like it where they live,” said Weesner, “They’ll literally book their tickets and make a week of it — a beer-cation.”

Always looking for an excuse to get away, this works for us! And with more than 70 breweries in the Portland Metro area, this is a beer-drinker’s haven worth a visit at any time of year.

Find out about next year’s Holiday Ale Festival at


Winter Getaways for the Spending Savvy Literary Traveler

February 8, 2012 in Travel, travel deals, Winter Travel

There is nothing that does the trick quite like experiencing the chill of January in New England to inspire the desire to travel someplace sunny and inviting. For the budget conscious literary traveler, however, a tropical vacation isn’t always a viable option.  Internet savvy travelers are no doubt familiar with websites like Expedia and Travelocity, which have long been vital resources in trip planning.  Now, with the rapid rise of flash sale websites there are even more options for affordable travel.  For those not yet familiar with the ingenious phenomenon of flash sale websites, such as Groupon and LivingSocial, among many others, there is no better way to get acquainted than to jump right in with their websites or iPhone applications.  Once on the site you can choose your location and are immediately offered a plethora of discounts on everything from dinners at local restaurants to services provided by nearby spas.  The only catch being that the deals are only available for a limited time and in limited quantities.

While Groupon has been around in its current form since 2008, it wasn’t until this past summer that the sight known for its huge discounts teamed up with Expedia to provide affordable travel options in the form of travel experiences pre-packaged and available for a limited time at a discounted price. With Groupon’s “Getaways with Expedia” and LivingSocial’s “Escapes” there is no excuse not to break the monotony of the winter months with a new experience and possibly a warmer climate.

The mission statement of Living Social is one any literary traveler can relate to.  According to the website, “our mission is to add surprise to every calendar. So we dig deep, pursuing both the things that define a place and the undiscovered jewels.”  As someone who caught the travel bug long ago, there is nothing better than perusing vacation possibilities as easily as browsing titles at a book store. With Groupon and Living Social you can explore affordable options handpicked by the websites with the budget conscious consumer in mind.  As an additional bonus, most packages come with added perks.  Purchase Groupon’s “Castle & Manor Tour” and not only will you spend six nights in Ireland, but the trip is prearranged to give you two nights in an authentic castle and four nights in a boutique hotel, allowing for a variety of new experiences.

Not looking to leave the country, or even perhaps the state?  There are always options for weekend jaunts to nearby accommodations you may not have ever known existed.  After entering “Boston” as my location on LivingSocial, I am offered a remarkable amount of cozy two night stays at a variety of bed and breakfasts in Massachusetts and surrounding states.  From an outing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, complete with a voucher for dinner and a complimentary bottle of wine, to a weekend at a quaint Cape Cod inn including a discount on spa services and daily breakfast, the options are vast and each uniquely appealing.

One can also appreciate their homage to the literary traveler in particular.  Describing a picturesque cottage, LivingSocial whimsically digresses that “Henry David Thoreau may have never found a companion that was as… companionable as solitude, but we’ve uncovered an Escape with which you’re sure to get along famously in a setting just as intimate.”  Ultimately, even if you are unable to travel further than your living room couch, perusing the various trips is its own little escape, allowing a break from the dropping temperature with the possibility of exploring an idyllic locale without breaking the bank.

Harry Potter in Alaska for Winter 2011

February 1, 2011 in British literature, children's literature, Winter Travel

Photo by Lindy MapesHarry Potter is a phenomenon.  We all know that.  Even though J.K. Rowling put out her last Harry Potter book a while ago, readers still love him and want to believe in Harry and his magical powers.  His world is a world where anything can happen and you can be a hero, no matter how small, young or old you are.

When I first read Harry Potter, I believe I was in college.  But what I most remember is passing around Harry Potter books as a Peace Corps volunteer in Estonia.  Winters in Estonia ranged from around 0 degrees to -30 degrees.  The wind pummeled me every morning as I walked out the door.  It was cold and dark for eight months of the year, and one of the best activities was to read.  Therefore, several of us volunteers passed around the Harry Potter books to read for entertainment.

That’s when I got the idea to use Harry Potter in the classroom.  I taught English as a foreign language and knew my seniors, who were advanced English speakers, would love the world of Harry.  And they did.  It kept them learning and entertained on those cold, dark days of winter.

To cope with yet another winter storm, we proudly present our latest article entitled A Harry Potter State of Mind in Winter Alaska.  Make yourself a hot cup of tea and enjoy!

Northern Lights Winter Travel

January 19, 2011 in Iceland Travel, Scandinavian Travel, Travel, Winter Travel

Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights Travel, Photo by US Air Force / Public DomainToday, I read Chasing the elusive Northern Lights by boat by Susannah Palk for CNN Travel.  Since it’s mid-January, icy and freezing in New York right now, I thought it was an appropriate topic for today’s post.  I am one of the lucky few who have seen the Northern Lights, a.k.a. Aurora Borealis,  in person … in fact, I’ve seen them in person 4 times!  Not many people can say that.

I saw the Northern Lights in Iceland, twice in Finnish Lapland (the area above the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia), and actually, once in Massachusetts, just outside of Boston–it was a freak occurrence.  The time I remember most vividly was when I stood on a desolate, frozen lake in Finnish Lapland.  I’ll never forget the 10-minute light show swirling above my head.  The colors blazed like lasers, and oddly enough, I could hear the Northern Lights.  That’s right.  If you get a chance to see them up close like I did and you’re in a remote area, you will literally hear them.  It sounds like a dull humming.

So when I read Susannah Palk’s article today, it brought back a surge of memories.  But also what interested me in Palk’s article was the “Northern Lights Safari.”  Palk says safari-goers take a two to five hour boat trip, complete with five course meal, to see the Northern Lights.  Guests also have the option of taking a two to three day boat tour.

This sounds like such a peaceful and magical winter trip.  It’s definitely a great travel destination for us writers who seek inspiration.  Sometimes, all you need is a little time in nature to get the literary juices flowing.


~ To continue with your winter adventures, check out War Games and Winter in Finland’s Lapland: Arto Paasilinna’s The Year of the Hare by Toma Kavonius.

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