Find your Zen in Oregon – Part 2 Waterfalls: The Silver Falls State Park

Do you have something planned for the evening but wonder what you could do to also make the most out of the day? Do you feel like getting some fresh air? Does a stroll in the nature fill up your energy reserves? Even though Eugene is filled with beautiful parks (at least two of them will be featured later in the blog), during this time of the year they aren’t quite enough to give plenty to do for several hours. Taking a drive to the Silver Falls State Park will, however, hit the spot when you are looking for an experience that will offer both stunning views and an opportunity to recharge for example from a tough work week.

The Silver Falls State Park, a scenic treasure, is located in Sublimity, about an hour and a half drive north from Eugene or an hour and twenty minutes south from Portland. There are ten larger waterfalls in the park, but three of them are easy to access, offer a great walk, and are extremely beautiful. One of the things I love the most about this park is that apart from the busiest summer months, it is rarely overly populated. There have been times when I have hiked there for hours and only seen a handful of people.

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The North Falls is easily accessible, only 0.3 mile hike from the car park. The falls is interesting as the alcove that has formed under the overhanging lip of the falls is particularly deep. That means that you can walk behind the waterfall without getting wet. At the same time, it makes the falls a little less impressive from that perspective.

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The North Falls is the third tallest waterfall in the state park (136 feet). It also is the least crowded of the three that are featured here, so if you are looking for solitude, this one may be the right choice. The walk to the falls through the forest is pretty. However, if you just want to get a glimpse of the falls on your way to the other waterfalls, there is a more distant roadside lookout point that allows you to see the falls in the middle of the dense forest that surrounds it.

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The South Falls, many may think, is the most stunning of these three waterfalls in the park. It really is worth a visit, as it takes only a couple of minutes to walk from the parking lot to the falls. The classical shape of the waterfall, the ledge that it rushes over, the plunge pool below the 177ft drop, and the wooden footbridge a little ways downstream make this a very traditional waterfall.

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The trail that leads behind the waterfall descends quite a bit so be prepared for a little workout! The mist lifted up in the air by the waterfall may give your hairdo a little treatment, but it’s a small price to pay for the experience. The serene feeling triggered by the waterfall is magnificent! In my opinion, this is the waterfall to go to if you are looking for a spectacular view with the least physical effort. If you find a good spot to sit and admire it, it is easy to get lost in your thoughts for quite a long time just because it is so mesmerizing.

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If you want to see the Lower South Falls, i.e. the third fall, it’s a little longer stroll away. If you walk to it from the plunge pool of the South Falls, don’t cross the footbridge but just continue 0.8 miles down the trail. This trail is quite leveled and doesn’t have but one steeper climb, so if you aren’t after a workout, it is the easiest if you just use the same route back. However, if you intend to do a full loop but aren’t planning to work up a sweat, start the loop from the top of the South Falls and walk along the ridge. From the parking lot to the Lower South Falls it is about 1.2-mile hike. This direction is way easier as it slowly descends down to the gorge and the climb back up is shorter than in the other direction over the ridge. If you plan to make it a full workout, do the full loop in the opposite direction. The climb up to the ridge will definitely give your calves and thighs some exercise!

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Lower South Falls is my absolute favorite of the waterfalls in the Silver Falls State Park! With its 93 feet drop it is not as high as the South Falls, but it has the similar classical shape in a wider form.

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Just like the other waterfalls, you can walk behind this one as well, however, at this spot the current of the river seems faster. The water rushes down over the ledge creating a veil that separates you from the rest of the world and creates a perfect moment for focusing only on the flow of the water. The veil formed by water drops, too many to count, is so beautiful that it leaves you speechless.

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The gorge that the river runs through is really stunning as well. It is a place where time stops ticking. It is easy to be connected with the nature around you and imagine how it looked like 100 years ago. It is also easy to picture it staying the same for decades if not centuries.

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These waterfalls are all places where finding the peace of mind is almost deceivingly easy. The gigantic trees, the river, the grove on top of the ridge, and the waterfalls – it is hard to picture that there would be more beautiful places in Oregon than these. The views put your mind at ease very quickly if you are willing to let go of your worries. However, that’s how the magic of Oregon works; it offers soothing but at the same time mind-blowing experiences in all corners of it.

Find your taste buds in Oregon – Eugene Part 1

Do your taste buds feel neglected or even shriveled and withered? Are you in need of a culinary experience that is absolutely mind-blowing? Do you like trying out different restaurants to find the perfect combo for a dinner? Here’s my suggestion for a dinner date that is fun, doesn’t restrict you to one place for all evening, and definitely triggers lots of conversation! Welcome to find your taste buds in Eugene, Oregon!

This dinner tour is not about fancy places that will max your credit card and leave you longing for more food. This is about small restaurants that make you smile even if your day has been long and tough and you have only had a minute to freshen up. They invite you to come as you are, because the focus is on food. Delicious food. Tasty food. Food that looks good, smells intoxicating, and tastes divine.

A perfect place to start the evening is Toshi’s Ramen. They serve, hands down, the best ramen in Eugene! The broth is really tasty without being overly salty or pungent, and there are a lot of options to choose from. The place is known for their authentic Japanese ramen (the owner is Japanese, but that’s not why I decided to choose this place for the first stop in this dinner tour. The real deal, this time, are their gyozas, or pot-stickers as some may call them.

Toshi's Ramen(Photo provided by Toshi’s Ramen at http://www.facebook.com)

The gyozas are to die for. They are prepared exactly right, and the combination of flavors is perfect. The waiters and waitresses are really friendly and teach you how to make the right kind of a dipping sauce to match the desires of your palate. I have seen a lot of people get just one order of them, but after sharing the plate of 6 gyozas they have ordered another one. The place is so popular that it can get crowded sometimes, so having to wait for your order for 20 minutes is not rare. A laid-back attitude and a flexible timetable is a must.

After the mind-blowing appetizers the tour continues to the neighboring city, Springfield. Just across the city line, there is a small strip mall that is a home for this hidden gem. Bai Khao is one of the most authentic Thai restaurants in Oregon. It is a small family business that serves such delicious meals that you just keep going back, again and again.

My absolute favorite on the menu is Spicy Basil. It is made so well that it gives your taste buds a foodgasm. When you add their amazingly delicious Thai Iced Tea to the combination, the balance between spicy and sweet is perfect. The smell of the sauce mixed with rice caresses your nostrils when you lift a forkful to your mouth. The Thai Iced Tea also softens the kick that the food has, so it serves multiple purposes. Another great option is Pad Thai which is really tasty even though not as much a masterpiece as the Spicy Basil. The atmosphere at the restaurant is homey and the owners make you feel welcomed. The place is busy not overly crowded, so it offers a great spot for a deep conversation.

Thai food

(Photo provided by http://www.thaifoodoregon.com)

When the appetizers and main courses have hit the spot, it’s time to have some dessert in a different location. What brings you to the perfect taste bud Zen moment is Yogurt Extreme that serves all possible flavors of frozen yogurt. Their frozen yogurt is the best of all the ones I have tried all over the world. Famous Italian gelato is left far behind when these smooth, velvety delights are discussed. There are two locations in Eugene, and even though both of them offer a changing selection of flavors, the Willamette location is a more certain spot to have some of their famous vanilla custard. It is fantastic, the flavor just dances on your tongue embracing your taste buds with its cool touch. The Willamette location is also more convenient with ample free parking lot, whereas in the Campus location you may have to drive around the block several times before getting a parking spot.

Yogurt Extreme(Photo provided by http://www.yogurtextreme.com)

When on a date, I would recommend taking the frozen yogurt to go and driving to the Southside hills for star gazing. Whether you are sitting in a warm car on a cold winter night or in a cool car on a hot summer night with the cool treat in your hand, the happiness in the eyes of your date created by the perfect dinner and the perfect partner makes the sparkling of the stars fade.

Find your Zen in Oregon – Part 1, Waterfalls of Columbia River Gorge

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First you hear the sound. The distant humming turns into a magnificent rumble the closer you get. Then you feel the moisture in the air. The contrast between the loud roar and the soothing, almost rainforest-like feeling the humidity is confusing your senses as you finally walk around the corner and see it. Words escape you. The beauty of Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in Oregon and the second-tallest year round waterfall in the US, is breath-taking.

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So, Multnomah Falls consists of two steps that have the total height of 620 feet. The foot trail from the visitor center leads to the Benson Footbridge that allows visitors to cross the lower cascade 105 feet above it. If you can choose a time when most of the tourists aren’t around, it’s an insanely attractive place to visit. Don’t get me wrong, the whole area is really beautiful all year round, but during summer the viewing area as well as hiking paths near the falls can get quite crowded.

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Waterfalls are, naturally, at their most beautiful during and straight after the rainy season, so winter and spring are excellent times of the year to visit the waterfalls of Oregon. If you get there on a rainy day, the drizzle may create a context for a magic, Zen moment at its best: Stand on the footbridge by yourself, no one else in sight, hear and feel the rain, take a few deep breaths and open your mind to the nature that is surrounding you.

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In the scenic Columbia River Gorge, there are plenty of waterfalls. For instance, the drive from the Vista House to Multnomah Falls offers the possibility to view and hike at least 4 other waterfalls. Of those, my favorite is Wahkeena Falls. It is a little less majestic, and thus, also a little less popular, and therefore offers a better opportunity for relaxation and emptying your mind of the clutter. The hiking route is pleasant and at no point are you too far away from the presence of the waterfall, so it is easy to stay in the moment and let the hum of the water soothe the racing thoughts.

If there was one suggestion I could give to people seeking for peace of mind and mindfulness in nature, it would be “No matter how little time you have, focus on one thing, whether it is a view, a sound, a smell, or the feeling on your skin, and take it in. Absorb it, let it take over, and feel the energy that surrounds you then.” In Oregon, when you go hiking, the abundance of the sensory stimuli is almost overwhelming, but at the same time, the amount of energy that recharges your batteries is also plentiful. The waterfalls in the Gorge are just one example of the natural wonders that Oregon has to offer. If you love being outdoors and are searching for your Zen, Oregon is the state for you.

 

Travel plans

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Even though my journeys across two continents continue, I cannot but dream about other trips as well. So, I decided to make a realistic 5-year travel plan. For this year, the calendar is already booked full as these two trips take the rest of the year, but from 2017 on, the plan is to focus on a couple of longer trips each year and then take plenty of shorter visits in between. I didn’t list European cities in the plan at all, because a lot of those trips are decided with the idea of “if I’ll already be in X, it offers a great opportunity to visit Y as well”.

2016

The Europe City Hopping Tour

Road Trip across the US

2017

Vancouver, BC + Banff National Park (3+ weeks)

Archipelago of Greece (3+ weeks)

Caribbean Cruise (12 nights)

2018

Japan (3+ weeks)

South America Cruise (21 nights)

2019

Madeira (2 weeks)

Australia + New Zealand (2 months)

2020

The Epic American RV Road Trip (currently planned to last for 10 months)

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There are plenty of destinations that I want to explore that are not included in this list, so most likely, it will be updated many times during the next months and years.

Modern, mythical Liechtenstein

Imagine crossing the border from one country to another without any formalities. It’s barely noticeable that you enter a new country. Drive for a mile or so, and you notice one difference that definitely separates the country from the previous one (that wasn’t bad at all per se): The country is, without a doubt, the most well-maintained and cleanest that you have ever been to. Beautiful flowers are planted in pots along the roads, and people on the streets are fashionably dressed. Welcome to the miniature country of Liechtenstein!

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This German-speaking microstate, the sixth-smallest independent nation in the world by land area, is a constitutional monarchy, and it is one of the two countries in the world that are doubly landlocked. It has an astonishingly low unemployment rate of only 1.5% and the highest gross domestic product per person in the world when not adjusted by purchasing power parity. All in all, Liechtenstein is a very rich, very well-organized state that welcomes tourists to learn more about it.

Parking in the center of the capital Vaduz is easy, there are plenty of parking spots in both parking garages and on the streets. The best place to start getting to know the city and the country is the Liechtenstein Center. The personnel there has answers to pretty much every question you can have, and the place gives you a good overview of what Vaduz and Liechtenstein are about.

I got excellent hiking directions (it was a walk though, not a hike) from the Liechtenstein Center to the Vaduz Castle that offers amazing views across the country.

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It is worth the climb even though you can’t enter the castle as it is a private residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein. I heard some people complaining about it at the top that they couldn’t check out the castle from the inside. I felt kind of bad for them as it seemed like they didn’t enjoy the beauty of the walk up there and the almost mythical atmosphere that the slightly foggy weather gave to the area.

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The fog created an ambiance of the Middle Ages, and I could just imagine knights riding on horses down the cobble stone road. Really, even just the walk up there made it a mini-adventure. The winding path that leads up to the castle has information boards that are both educative and entertaining. They tell interesting bits and pieces about the life and history of the micronation, so taking your time and reading them is worth it!

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Back in the center of Vaduz, the Main Square is a good spot for resting after the walk and planning out the rest of the trip. It’s a beautiful area with lots of cafes, restaurants, stores, and statues. The picturesque architecture creates an interesting point of comparison to the modern parliament building.

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The square is pedestrianized, so if you are traveling with children, it’s a safe area for teens and even younger ones to explore by themselves.

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Near the Main Square there’s also the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, so if you are a lover of contemporary and modern art, a stop there may be a good choice. I found the sculptures outside of it as well as the exhibitions inside fascinating, but that wasn’t very surprising as I usually tend to visit museums that focus on art starting from the early 1900s.

After exploring the center of Vaduz for a couple of hours, I had a snack in a café and headed south toward Switzerland. As I was not after white slopes and powder snow this time, I passed the great winter holiday location of Malbun on my way out. I have heard that even though it is not the largest of the ski resorts in the area, it has a ski lift that takes you to the top even in the summer and the views that open from there are magnificent as you can see Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland, all at the same time. Even if you don’t have a car, there is a daily bus connection from Vaduz to Malbun area, so it is easy to reach. I couldn’t but wonder if I missed out on something that I would regret, but the Alps in Switzerland were already calling my name, so it was time for me to say goodbye to Liechtenstein.