Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Sylvia Beach Hotel

One of the jewels of the Oregon Coast is the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport. A few weeks ago I gave myself a very special gift and spent two wonderful days and nights reading and relaxing and watching the storm and the surf raging outside the window of the reading room.

I apologize upfront for the photos -- they are not the best nor are they adequate, but they are the only ones that remain from that wonderful experience. For some inexplicable reason, I seem to have deleted the rest from my computer.

Their website has words to the effect that the place is not for everyone -- it will either welcome you with open arms or spit you out and I think that is really true. It's funky, it has resident cats, an emphasis on books and reading and relaxation and contentment. There are no telephones, televisions or radios and please, keep your cell phones on vibrate and take the calls outside. If you want to be entertained, there are games and puzzles and plenty of books in the library. Quiet conversation is encouraged in the reading room, with the emphasis on quiet. There is no smoking, no pets, and no young children. It's really my kind of place!

Each room is named for a famed writer and decorated in the style of that writer and his or her era. Colette, Faulkner, Shakespeare, Dr. Seuss, Mark Twain, Agatha Christie, Alice Walker, E.B. White, Emily Dickenson -- and more. Many have fireplaces, some (as in the Lincoln Steffens room where I slept) are small, some more spacious. Some have ocean views, some do not. Mine had the ocean view -- a lighthouse view -- but I found it didn't really matter because the only time I stayed in the room was to sleep and then the shades were drawn because I faced the parking lot. I could have saved myself some money with a non-ocean-view room, and if I return, that's probably just what I will do. On the other hand, if I were going with romance in mind, I'd gladly pay more and head to the Colette with it's vibrant reds and white, or Stella (think Tennessee Williams) with it's mosquito net bed drapes and tropical air.

The hotel sits right on the beach and commands a spectacular view of the ocean. The dining room occupies that lower level with the big windows and you can take my word that coffee and breakfast just naturally tend to taste better when you can watch the surf right outside while you wake up and start your day. On the other hand, the food is so good it really doesn't need any help to be fab.

My purpose for making this visit was to experience and enjoy the hotel and to get away to think about some life decisions that were plaguing me in Eugene, so the weather forecast for rain and wind and storms didn't really matter. This room, the third floor reading room, was where I intended to spend most of my time and I was armed with a few books plus my laptop for writing. As it turned out, that's exactly what I did! Between the blue chair in the far left corner, and the dark green leather chair in front of the window, on the left, I rarely left this room for the entire time, other than meals and sleeping. I read, gazed out the window, sipped gallons of herbal tea all day and wine in the afternoon and evening (buy it there or bring your own -- they'll supply a glass, no charge). Right behind where I stood to take this photo is another nook with a lovely fireplace that warms the air day and night, if someone is willing to feed it.

This was my view from both chairs -- utterly peaceful, serene, calming and conducive to quiet contemplation and deep thoughts, if you don't feel like reading. What you can't sense at all is the sound -- the wind was howling and blustery and up on the top floor in particular the building occasionally shook and trembled, with much rattling and squeaking as it rode the storm's fury -- and this was a relatively small storm!

When I arrived, the sun was still shining and I ran out onto the beach for a nice walk in the sun and wind wrapped in the taste and smell of salt air. Clouds began to encroach quickly, but I was grateful for this small taste of sand and surf and sun. I ventured out for a few moments the next morning, but the wind was raw and cold and wet and I quickly scurried back inside for coffee and breakfast.

Breakfast is included in the cost of your room and, like all meals, is served family style. The buffet table overflowed with a wide variety of luscious baked goodies. One morning we had pumpkin pancakes with a pecan butter and sausages and the next morning an incredibly good Mexican tortilla filled with cheese and other scrumptious flavors and ingredients.

The dining room is open to the public, has one or two seatings per evening, requires reservations at least one hour in advance and offers a choice of 3 or 4 entrees. I opted to eat here my first evening and dinner was superb – some kind of pureed soup, carrot? then a Caesar salad, both served with baskets of incredible, freshly baked home-made bread followed by fat asparagus with garlic and red peppers, steaming bowls of fragrant rice, and a perfectly cooked concoction of huge prawns and scallops in a rich cream sauce. I could barely contemplate dessert, yet couldn’t resist a few tastes -- a luscious almond cake drizzled heavily with melted dark chocolate and sliced almonds. Afterwards – it was 9pm by now, a two-hour dinner – I rolled myself up two flights of stairs and into the welcoming, high bed and slept for 8 solid hours.

If you find yourself in Newport and want to treat yourself to something really special, I can't recommend the Sylvia Beach too highly. In fact, if you are anywhere near Newport, take a detour if need be. Go!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

My Southern Oregon Coast Experience

I first fell in love with the southern Oregon Coast on a cold, stormy day in May of 1996. It's a love affair that has never died. In May of 2009, 13 years later, I will retire and move to the small town of Brookings, which is about as far south as one can go on the Pacific Coast and still be in Oregon.

I remember very clearly the first day I drove up this coast. I'd driven west from Atlanta at a very leisurely pace, stopping for a week at the Grand Canyon, a few days at Sequoia National Park, a week at Yosemite, stopped in Napa and nobody I wanted to see was in town, so I kept driving north up the coast highway. I'd never been north of Mendocino, so yes, this was my first visit to Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and Redwood National Park. A day in the redwoods and then across into Oregon and jaw-dropping scenery that pulled me into its magic and hooked me forever.

It wasn't a pretty day, weather wise. On the contrary, I drove all day in a wild wind and rain storm and wasn't phased by it in the least, other than the effort of keeping my car on the road because of the wind. I simply didn't care -- the coast was/is so beautiful, weather didn't matter. I thought then -- and agree now -- that this has to be one of the most beautiful stretches of highway that exists anywhere. Simply breathtaking between the California border and the town of Port Orford. Beyond that, the road travels inland much of the time up to Florence, but down here, you're right on the water, with all the surf and rocks and nature anyone could want.

By the time I crossed the state line, I was already on sensory overload from the redwoods, where I'd hiked and explored deep into various groves and found what was touted as the tallest tree in the world. When the first expansive vistas of that rocky coast opened up, I thought nothing could possibly be this beautiful. I stopped often between rain squalls to gaze in awe and try to capture the grandeur on film.

I spent that first night in Newport and ended up driving the entire coast up to Astoria and back down through the Willamette Valley, where I eventually settled. The entire Oregon coast is spectacular, and you'll find various definitions of where the 'southern' Oregon coast begins, but for my purposes, I'm going to focus on the area from Newport south to Brookings and on down into the California redwoods as far as Humboldt State Park and Redwood National Park, in general. I expect to focus on the area from Port Orford south to Brookings and on into the Smith River and Jedediah Smith State Redwood Park, more often and in greater detail, since this is my 'hood.

This photo was taken in 1996 at a beach near Florence, and that's about all I can tell you other than that it was very early in the morning and I was fascinated by the lifting fog and the sun rising over the hills.

By this time, I'd settled in Corvallis but was still drawn to the coast. I'd driven over and spent the night in a tent at one of the many state parks with beach-front campgrounds. The early riser in me had me out exploring by dawn.

This photo was taken at the same beach, probably a little earlier. Are you seeing the beauty I saw yet? I hope so. In fact, I hope you will fall in love with this beautiful area and be compelled to follow along as I explore the many inlets and beaches and trails and rivers that are so prevalent along the entire coast.

I get a little crazy sometimes with the camera -- aside from spectacular beauty, I also find great beauty in the natural patterns formed by nature, such as these patterns in the sand on some unknown beach.

Yes, this is the photo in my page header, taken off the Brookings Harbor in April 2009. Can't beat that late afternoon light reflection!

So - welcome to My Southern Oregon Coast. I hope you'll visit often and enjoy what you see and read. I'll be going to festivals and local events, hiking, cycling, and hopefully doing some sea-kayaking as I explore the myriads of expansive beaches, tiny inlets and coves and river mouths, and great groves of redwoods. Join me!