I’m staying at the Norblad Hotel and Hostel in the heart of downtown Astoria, and I’m nervous. It’s centrally-located, but there are red flags that suggest I should have looked elsewhere for lodging. It’s not listed on any of the hostel-booking websites, and what few reviews I can find are tepid, at best.
But, wanting the “hostel experience” and seeking a little adventure, I gamble on a bed.
It pays off. The hostel is clean enough, the staff is friendly, and the location can’t be beat. The “hostel experience” leaves something to be desired, though; I have the four-bed room to myself both nights, and I only see one other guest the whole weekend.
And while there’s something to be said for that “hostel experience,” two nights of sleeping on a mattress as thick as the seventh “Harry Potter” book is plenty.
I check in and immediately head for the river. I don’t even bother taking my bag to the room. The Columbia Rivers comes out from hiding behind Astoria’s downtown buildings as I walk toward the water. After a few minutes, it’s stretching as far as I can see in both directions. And I’m totally awe-struck. No matter how many times I make the trip, no matter how many photos I see, it’s always more beautiful than I remember.
I eat dinner at the most unusual chowder shop I’ve ever seen. I guess the Pacific Northwest’s gray coastline isn’t a muse for the minds behind Charlie’s, which bills itself as serving the “best chowder on the coast.”
Inside, I’m shocked — instead of drawing on the north Oregon coast for decoration inspiration, Charlie’s has adopted a full-blown Hawaiian vibe. The place mats are shaped and decorated like Hawaiian shirts, a surf board rests against the wall, and a Tiki lounge is open in the next room. Autumn might be pervasive outside of Charlie’s, but inside, an endless summer awaits. (The chowder, by the way, is good, not great.)
After dinner, I head to Seaside. I’m visiting my friends Dan and Marlena, who are in town for the weekend. We walk along the boardwalk for about an hour and are ploting our next move when a a man walks up to us. He’s carrying a jug-shaped brown paper bag, and he launches into a soliloquy that ends in an oddly poetic fashion: “There’s no other place that has this kind of peace.” He was three sheets to the wind several beers ago, but it’s oddly touching. He tells us to pray for him and heads for the water.
It’s 10 p.m., and I’m not ready to retire just yet. I head to the Wet Dog Cafe. There I slide up to the bar for a beer and a stout-infused cupcake. Yes, you read that right. “Decadent” doesn’t begin to describe it.
Predictably, I can’t finish this little slice of heaven. So I offer some to the couple next to me. They decline, but we spend the next hour talking about, among other things, the weekend’s brew festival, the 1977 Minnesota Vikings, and the importance of counterbalances on cranes. It’s the best possible way to end a Friday. With the town shut down and nowhere else to take the fun, I call it a night.
I don’t waste a minute on Saturday. I’m out the door by 8 and make a beeline for the waterfront. There I spend a few hours enjoying the sites and taking in a side of Astoria that’s easy to miss on the drive through town.
My buddy Edward and I leave the festival after about two hours and make our way to Fort George Brewery for a tour. One of the brewery’s co-owners leads the 20-minute tour; in that time, we learn about its operations, the company’s history, and some local lore. Edward and I spend another half hour playing foosball and shuffleboard; he wins every game convincingly, and I run out of excuses for my poor performance.
Dinner time! We make our way to the waterfront for a quick bite at Rollin Thunder BBQ. I remark to the owner how odd it is that he runs a barbecue restaurant in a city known for its seafood. “We don’t say the ‘f’ word here,” he tells me.
Game time! After dinner, Edward and I walk to the Merry Time Restaurant and Lounge to watch the WSU/Oregon game. It’s a close first half, but the Ducks — as they’re known to do — pull away in the third quarter. Edward is an Oregon alum, but he’s nice enough not to rub it in when the Ducks start to dominate.
That’s more than can be said for the dozen or so Duck fans who find it fitting to cheer wildly every time Oregon does something right. No play is too small to elicit whoops and hollers, be it a tackle, incomplete pass, or three-yard run run. Their insufferable cheering feels like a little much after Oregon has jumped out to a three-touchdown lead, so we depart.
It’s well after 10 when we leave. The quiet Astoria downtown, peaceful even during rush hour, is all but deserted by now. The stop lights are cycling through with no traffic to direct.
WSU’s bad game is a distant memory by the time we hit the main drag. I’m reflecting on a long day and dreading the stairs leading to my room. It’s been a whirlwind of a day. I’m tired, just a bit buzzed, and incredibly happy. Another successful trip to Astoria is in the books.