Portland, Oregon

I love Portland! My dog and I lived in Hillsdale, a neighborhood in Southwest Portland, in 2006 and 2007. In that timeframe, I enrolled in master’s courses in Urban and Regional Planning at Portland State University. I also took the Oregon bar exam. And then I returned to the Midwest.

I set sail once again for the West Coast in late 2014, hoping to find steady income. En route, I spent a night in Bozeman, where I lived for two years, and Ritzville, a small town in the midst of scrubland in eastern Washington.

Eventually, I arrived in Lake Oswego, in Southwest Portland. I coexisted as a grateful guest for five nights with a friend, his girlfriend, and their daughters. The apartment, surrounded by lush forest, yet close to downtown, felt like home.

Afterward, I ambled to Northeast Portland, near the airport, landing at a Radisson for four nights. Two of those nights were free, and the other two were booked with points. The staff enjoyed serving guests, a welcome sign of good hospitality. The check-in agent provided vouchers for evening drinks and appetizers, as well as breakfast, all included with the room. My abode, on the private fourth floor, had a lounge down the hall, where I topped off mochas and lattes.

I stayed one night at the Hyatt Place, also near the airport, using a free night certificate. I might have used the award at the Grand Hyatt in Seattle, but in Portland, the only option is a Hyatt Place. The hotel is encompassed by new, chain development, with convenient rail links.

The next day, I drove to the eastern suburb of Gresham, spending four nights at the Four Points by Sheraton, using SPG points. The walls are paper thin, but the staff is obliging. The location, distant from downtown Portland, is connected by rail, but Gresham is a worn-out section of town.

Following the Four Points, I crossed the Willamette River into Washington, spending a night at the Staybridge Suites in Vancouver, using IHG points. I retreated back across the river the next day, staying two nights at a Holiday Inn Express in Troutdale, a suburb on the eastern edge of Portland, at the entrance to the Columbia Gorge. I redeemed additional IHG points.

On my return to South Dakota, I stopped in Missoula, Montana, for a night at the Holiday Inn Downtown, booked via Priceline. My final day on the road was a twelve-hour stretch to Fort Pierre, through rain and scattered snow.

The adventure endlessly entertained. My move to Portland is impending. Below is a re-cap of accommodations and hotel points used. While the trip dissipated a substantial amount of points and awards, it confirmed my suspicion that wise utilization can prove opportune, and financially rewarding.

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Friday August 22

Bozeman, MT – Holiday Inn Express

15,000 IHG points

Upgraded to a King Suite

 

Saturday

Ritzville, WA – Best Western Plus Bronco Inn

$103

Nice hotel for this isolated locale

 

Sunday through Thursday

Portland (Lake Oswego) – Joe’s Place

FREE

Thankful for an air mattress and a welcome home

 

Friday

Portland – Radisson

28,000 Club Carlson points

With Club Carlson Gold Status, upgraded and received certificates for breakfast and evening drinks and appetizers in the restaurant.

 

Saturday

Portland – Radisson

FREE

With the Club Carlson credit card, the last night of any award stay is free. I booked two two-night stays (see below).

 

Sunday

Portland – Radisson

28,000 Club Carlson points

 

Monday

Portland – Radisson

FREE

 

Tuesday

Portland – Hyatt Place

Category 1 – 4 Free Night Certificate (obtained after $91 paid night in Denver).

Enjoyable, but should have saved the certificate for a more desirable property.

 

Wednesday

Portland (Gresham) – Four Points

4,000 SPG points

Walls are paper thin, but staff is obliging

 

Thursday

Portland (Gresham) – Four Points

4,000 SPG points

Earned SPG Gold Status after this stay

 

Friday

Portland (Gresham) – Four Points

3,000 SPG points

Reduced rate on weekends

 

Saturday

Portland (Gresham) – Four Points

3,000 SPG points

Another weekend night…

 

Sunday

Portland (Vancouver, WA) – Staybridge Suites

15,000 IHG points

A quiet suite with comforts of home

 

Monday

Portland (Troutdale) – Holiday Inn Express

10,000 IHG points

Sandwiched between two truck stops, but pleasant staff

 

Tuesday

Portland (Troutdale) – Holiday Inn Express

10,000 IHG points

More of the same…

 

Wednesday

Missoula, MT – Holiday Inn Downtown

$70 booked via Priceline

Late arrival and early departure with view of lobby

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Hotel Points for US Travel

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Best Western

  • Program: Best Western Rewards
  • Hotels: Best Western Premier, Best Western Plus, Best Western
  • Rooms start at: 12,000 points
  • Credit card:
    • Best Western Rewards MasterCard (Barclays)
      • Sign-up bonus = 16,000 points

Choice Hotels

  • Program: Choice Privileges
  • Hotels: Comfort Inn, Cambridge Suites, Sleep Inn, Quality Inn, EconoLodge, Clarion, Cambria Suites, Mainstay Suites, Ascend Hotel Collection
  • Rooms start at: 8,000 points
  • Credit card:
    • Choice Privileges Visa Signature (Barclays)
      • Sign-up bonus = up to 32,000 points

Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group

  • Program: Club Carlson
  • Hotels: Radisson, Radisson Blu, Country Inn & Suites, Park Inn, Park Plaza, Hotel Missoni
  • Rooms start at: 9,000 points
  • Credit card:
    • Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature (US Bank)
      • Sign-up bonus = up to 85,000 points

Drury Hotels

  • Program: Gold Key Club
  • Hotels: Drury Inn, Pear Tree Inn, Drury Plaza
  • Rooms start at: 25,000 points
  • Credit card:
    • Drury Gold Key Club Credit Card (Commerce Bank)
      • Sign-up bonus = 10,000 points

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

  • Program: President’s Club
  • Hotels: Fairmont Hotels
  • Rooms start at: 25,000 points
  • Credit card:
    • Fairmont Visa Signature (Chase)
      • Sign-up bonus = 2 free nights

Hilton Hotels & Resorts

  • Program: HHonors
  • Hotels: Waldorf Astoria, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Hilton, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites
  • Rooms start at: 5,000 points
  • Credit cards:
    • Hilton HHonors Reserve Card (Citibank)
      • Sign-up bonus = 2 free nights
    • Hilton HHonors American Express
      • Sign-up bonus = 50,000 points

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Hyatt Hotels & Resorts

  • Program: Gold Passport
  • Hotels: Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Place, Hyatt Regency
  • Rooms start at: 5,000 points
  • Credit card:
    • Hyatt Visa Signature (Chase)
      • Sign-up bonus = 2 free nights

InterContinental Hotels Group [IHG]

  • Program: Rewards Club
  • Hotels: InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites, Hotel Indigo, EVEN Hotels
  • Rooms start at: 5,000 points
  • Credit card:
    • IHG Rewards Club Select Visa (Chase)
      • Sign-up bonus = 85,000 points

La Quinta Inn & Suites

  • Program: Returns
  • Hotels: La Quinta Inns & Suites
  • Rooms start at: 6,000 points
  • Credit card:
    • La Quinta Returns Visa (First Bankcard)
      • Sign-up bonus = up to 40,000 points

Marriott

  • Program: Marriott Rewards
  • Hotels: JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Renaissance, SpringHill Suites, Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Courtyard by Marriott
  • Rooms start at: 6,000 points
  • Credit card:
    • Marriott Rewards Visa Signature (Chase)
      • Sign-up bonus = 70,000 points

Starwood Hotels

  • Program: Starwood Preferred Guest [SPG]
  • Hotels: Le Meridien, Aloft, Four Points, Westin, W Hotels, Sheraton, St. Regis, Element
  • Rooms start at: 2,000 points
  • Credit card:
    • Starwood Preferred Guest American Express
      • Sign-up bonus = up to 30,000 points

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts

  • Program: Wyndham Rewards
  • Hotels: Wyndham Hotels, Days Inn, Howard Johnson, Ramada, Super 8, Knights Inn, Hawthorn Suites, Wingate, Travelodge, Microtel Inn & Suites
  • Rooms start at: 5,500 points
  • Credit card:
    • Wyndham Rewards Visa Signature (Barclays)
      • Sign-up bonus = 30,000 points

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Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) American Express

There’s less than a week left (June 30th) to apply for a Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) American Express credit card to get up to 30,000 points after qualifying purchases. The deal is usually for 25,000 points. The SPG card is highly regarded by frequent travelers. Rooms start at 2,000 points for a weekend night. Starpoints transfer to many airlines at a 1×1 ratio. And, SPG tacks on a 5,000-mile bonus when transferring 20,000 points, equalling 25,000 airline miles. The $65 annual fee is waived the first year. If you’re interested, send a message and I would be glad to refer you. Then, you can refer friends and family when the deal comes round again, which it does every 6 months or so. Enjoy!

(Starwood Hotels include: Sheraton, Four Points, Aloft, Le Meridien, Westin, W Hotels, and the St. Regis)

-I also have referrals available for the SPG business card, which is offering the same bonus.

-contact me at: mriter@hotmail.com

A Long Weekend in Denver

Friday June 4

Holiday Inn Denver East – Stapleton

$98 (earned 12,000+ IHG points for this stay by stacking 4 promotions)

A convivial hotel with balcony accompanying each room – Great view of sun setting over downtown Denver with Front Range beyond.

 

Saturday June 5

Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center

$91 (earned a Category 4 free night certificate for this stay)

VIP Suite – Used an upgrade certificate received via a Diamond challenge – Suite included living room, dining room, 2 bathrooms, office, reading room, and bar stocked with free snacks and drinks. Gourmet breakfast included.

 

Sunday June 8

Radisson Denver Southeast

15,000 points (with Club Carlson credit card, last night of award stay is free – thus 7,500 points per night for 2 nights – lowest award category is 9,000 points per night)

Remodeled hotel – Pleasant staff – Room with unglamorous view of freeway

 

Monday June 9

Radisson Denver Southeast

FREE (see above)

Isolated hotel location, but adequate accommodation

 

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(View from balcony at Holiday Inn Denver East – Stapleton)

The Road to the West Coast Paved with Deals

 

What an experience! Three days in the East Bay. Three days in San Francisco. A couple nights in Portland. Another in Humboldt County and one in Eugene. Windshield time in South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana. Too many miles on the truck and too much money to oil companies. Memorable nonetheless.

 

I won 20,000 Wyndham Rewards points in a contest hosted by a travel blogger. I used 8,000 of those points at a Howard Johnson Express in Evanston, Wyoming, and another 8,000 at the Knights Inn in Berkeley. Neither accommodation blew me away, but it was budget travel at its best.

 

I had a $25 Hotels Tonight voucher via another travel blogger and used it on a $37 room in Reno. $12 for an amazing view of the sun setting over Reno. I packed sandwiches for the outbound and return journeys, further cutting expenses.

 

I slept on a friend’s couch in Oakland, and hit up a Holiday Inn Express in Richmond, California for 15,000 IHG points. I spent 2 nights at the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco, with pampering fit for a king. Included were free food and drinks in the lounge (thanks to a Diamond challenge), and incredible views of the city from my 32nd story room.

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My final San Francisco night was at the JW Marriott. That night, I attended a Braves v. Giants baseball game. I’d received a $10 coupon from Amazon Local and with it I bought a $40 voucher from Score Big. Armed with the voucher, I headed over to Score Big and bid on a $57 ticket for $35. My bid was accepted. The ticket was thus free. My seat was in the lower level, up the third base line. On the hill for the Giants was Tim Lincecum, former Cy Young Award winner who’s fallen on hard times. Yet, he dominated, striking out 11 en route to a 4-2 victory. I abstained from food and drink at the park, opting for a slice of pizza after the game.

 

I also hiked through Muir Woods just north of San Francisco. The redwoods had been on my bucket list and didn’t disappoint. Standing still for 2,000 years is some feat. The $7 entrance fee was well worth it.

 

I left my truck in Berkeley at a relative’s house, and took BART into the city, saving $50+ a day in parking fees. I retreated to the East Bay via Lyft, an alternative to taxis, and used a $50 coupon, again, gleaned from another travel blogger.

 

After the Bay Area, I headed north to Rohnert Park, in Sonoma County. I stayed at a Best Western, using a $35 Travel Pony voucher. The following night, I stayed at another Best Western, this one in Fortuna, just south of Eureka. The drive to reach it, on Highways 1 and 101, wound past stunning coastline and dense forests. Following this second night, I earned a $50 coupon to use on a future stay.

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After Fortuna, I drove north into the Redwoods National and State Parks, hiking through another ancient grove of redwoods. I angled north and east to Grants Pass and Eugene, where I stayed in a king suite at the Holiday Inn Express for 15,000 points.

 

The next day, I drove north to Portland and found my hotel, a Four Points by Sheraton, which costs 3,000 SPG points per night on weekends. I met up with friends from my time in Portland (2006-2007), and visited Portland State University, where I formerly attended graduate urban planning classes.

 

I drove from Portland to Belgrade, Montana in one long haul, and stayed at a Quality Inn, using Priceline Express Deals. The next morning I cruised past Bozeman, another former stomping ground, and angled south and east until reaching Pierre. Two weeks on the road and a mere 4 paid nights. The miles and points game paid off. Below is a recap:

 

Monday May 5

Evanston, WY – Howard Johnson Express

8000 Wyndham points

An adequate place to sleep

 

Tuesday

Reno, NV – Sands Resort & Casino

$37 – $25 “Hotels Tonight” voucher = $12

Great sunset over Reno

 

Wednesday

Oakland, CA – couch

Free

Thanks to Friends

 

Thursday

Berkeley, CA – Knights Inn

8000 Wyndham points

Better than Expected – Less than a Mile to UC Berkeley

 

Friday

Richmond, CA – Holiday Inn Express

15,000 IHG points

Standard and tidy – Upgraded

 

Saturday

San Francisco – Grand Hyatt

Free night certificate

Incredible views and treatment

 

Sunday

San Francisco – Grand Hyatt

Free night certificate

More of the same

 

Monday

San Francisco – JW Marriott

50,000 Marriott points

Aesthetically stunning but not particularly warm or inviting

 

Tuesday

Rohnert Park, CA – Best Western

$102 – $35 “Travel Pony” voucher = $67

Never like paying for a room, but it was discounted and counted toward a certificate

 

Wednesday

Fortuna, CA – Best Western

$91 (earned a $50 gift card after 2nd Best Western stay)

At least I earned a certificate – Northern Cali rocks

 

Thursday

Eugene, OR – Holiday Inn Express

15,000 IHG points

A sweet suite, with fireplace, living room, 2 big screens, soaking tub with jets, kitchen, and comforts of home – same amount of points as regular room

 

Friday

Portland – Four Points by Sheraton

3,000 SPG points – weekend night

Distant from downtown, but connected by light-rail

 

Saturday

Portland – Four Points by Sheraton

3,000 SPG points – weekend night

After this stay, 2 more needed this year for SPG Gold Status

 

Sunday

Belgrade, MT – Quality Inn

$59 – Priceline Express Deals

Late arrival – Sampled a bit of everything for breakfast

 

 

(Note: I received the Hyatt free night certificates as a sign-up bonus on their credit card, and I have Platinum status with IHG as a bonus on their credit card.)

 

Athens: On Colorful Footings

(What follows is the second in a series of articles on a 2009 adventure through Europe and the Middle East. The previous commentary discussed the vibrancy of Jerusalem).

 

As my impromptu quest approached the Balkan Peninsula, a foremost sensation arose: supreme serenity, divergent from Jerusalem, palpable nonetheless. Idyllic islands peppering the vast Aegean Sea, wrapped in pine, cedar, and olive. Fishing boats, catamarans, cruise and industrial ships, arriving and departing the port at Piraeus. Arcing toward Athens International Airport, the searing sun overhead glimmered off contemporary towers fraternizing with antiquious remnants, set amidst seven sacred knolls.   

 

Paging through a guidebook further exposed modernity commingling with antiquity: the Monastiraki Flea Market and the Central Market, each swarming with life. The once-exuberant Ancient and Roman Agoras, the commanding Roman Stadium, the seemingly incongruous Arch of Hadrian, and the enduring Acropolis, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with the imposing and iconic Parthenon standing dignified atop the city. The Municipal Art Gallery, exhibiting surrealist and impressionist pieces, and the National Archaeological Museum, with a myriad of artifacts spanning regions and eras of ancient Greece. Historic neighborhoods at the foot of the Acropolis: Monastiraki, Thissio, and Plaka, an animated bazaar. Anafiotika, a captivating, diminutive neighborhood with Greek isle ambiance, and Pysrri, a former industrial district, renewed with café’s, restaurants, and bars. Omonia Square, within a busy confluence of avenues, and Syntagma Square, the business district, present a mixture of Athenians and visitors from round the globe. The city bristles with dynamism, yet defies comprehension on initial impression.  

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The airport was constructed, and Athens Metro expanded, in preparation for the 2004 Olympics. Alas, on our arrival, the metro line to the airport sat idle. Instead, I loaded my pack onto a bus and examined the route into downtown from a window seat. After Palestine, from the Greek, Palaistine, with its’ diverse assortment of culture and custom, Athens bears a decisively Western impression, albeit with a primordial hint of history drifting through the soothing Mediterranean air. Shoppers navigate archaic lanes filled with trendy fashion and home furnishing stores. Modern hotels, pharmacies, supermarkets, and gas stations contour the roads. 

A Tale of Olives

Athens originates with Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, inspiration, and civilization. Plato identified her as Neith, an Egyptian deity. Greek devotees traditionally presented an olive branch in honor of Athena. Sources recount that Cecrops, the first king of Attica, preferred the offering of Athena, a local olive tree, to that of Poseidon, a spring of saltwater, and duly christened the fledgling city in her name.

 

Olive trees are native to the Mediterranean basin, and wild species continue to thrive here. Differing accounts place the olive’s domestication on the Greek island of Crete, or in the Levant, with the Canaanites. In Greece, a tradition of grafting valued cuttings onto wild olive trees has developed into an art. This method establishes a productive and yet resilient tree, yielding fruit over hundreds or thousands of years. Throughout the Mediterranean basin, natives point to an olive tree of considerable age. In Lebanon, a tree still stands from 4000 BC. In the Galilee, another endures from 3000 BC, and in Sardinia stands a tree from 2000 BC.

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Today, the olive branch has morphed into a global icon of peace. This trend also extends its’ roots into Greece, where, historically, victors of friendly games or bloody wars were crowned with olive branches. Olive oil served as eternal flame during the original Olympics, while athletes and royalty were anointed with the esteemed oil. The Games launched not far from Athens, in the Peloponnese, and fittingly, when the modern-day Games returned in 1918, Athens accepted the nomination.

An Athenian Golden Age

The 5th Century BC, an era of powerful city-states, the golden age of Athens. The century began ominously, when the mighty Persian Empire invaded Greece in 492 BC. Two years later, Athenians routed the Persian army at Marathon, on the Greek coast. After the battle, a man named Phidippides sprinted 26 miles to the central square in Athens to publicize the victory and perished on the spot. The race, in his memory, the marathon, thus tracks the distance Phidippides covered that fateful day.

 

After defeating the Persian army, Athenians unabashedly relocated the regional treasury from Delos to Athens. Soon after, masons began construction on the Acropolis, and in 438 BC, finished the Parthenon. Democracy took firm hold of the region during this monumental century. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the philosophical triumvirate, called Athens home. So too did Sophocles and Euripides (playwrights), Herodotus and Thucydides (historians), as well as Hippocrates (a renowned physician).   

 

Athens’ golden era began to crumble at the end of the century, during the Peloponnesian Wars, when Sparta skillfully defeated Athens and ascended to control the local seas. The wars also fostered the Plague of Athens, decimating the population by one-third. The Roman Empire conquered the region in the 2nd Century BC, and today, Roman ruins exist alongside Greek monuments. Athens then tumbled into obscurity for nearly two millennia, subjugated by northern and central European clans, and finally, in 1458, by the powerful Ottoman Empire.

Modernity Arrives

By 1832, the city contained no more than 5000 residents. Two years later, Greeks designated Athens the capital of their neophyte state, and in 1837, constructed the University of Athens, a byline connecting two cultures: golden Greece and this modern version. Schools of theology, philosophy, law, economics, science, and education, once again, offer Socratic instruction. The Propylaea, a building designed to emulate the historic entrance to the Acropolis, where visitors now enter that site, stands prominently, serving as ceremony hall and rectory.   

 

Nearby, the National Archaeological Museum, founded in 1889, preserves relics from the regions’ colorful past. Vivid statues, expertly sculpted reliefs, gleaming jewelry, and a stunning Egyptian collection greet visitors. The museum incorporates an open-air café in the center of the property. Situated a level below the first floor, it peers into the afternoon sky. Throughout the enclosed square, displays from the museum mingle with lush vegetation. For those seeking coffee and a reprieve from the masses above, an ever-welcoming environment awaits.

 

Athens, like many modern metropoli, ballooned in the 20th Century. In 1921, a war with Turkey uprooted more than a million Christian Greeks living in Turkey, many who settled in Athens. Immigrants helped expand the city’s population and boundaries. More than a third of Greek nationals, 4 million, now reside in the metro region. Walking Athens and its neighborhoods today provides an indispensable glimpse into the life of Greece’s most heralded municipality. Modernity dominates, and urban sprawl swells, but the remnants of a previous era, a golden era, live on.

Lasting Impressions

My final night, wandering to and fro, I chanced upon the Exarcheia Neighborhood, an enclave with anarchic traditions, quaint café’s, dingy bars, and crowded comic book shops. Intuition guided me down a few steps to a used bookstore in a decrepit, yet well-kept basement. Here, I studied the sometimes archaic, often eccentric material. After an hour of browsing, and a few intriguing discussions with the shopkeeper, I selected an esoteric text, A Walk With the Gods. Not until a mountainous Peloponnesian train-ride from Diakopto to Kalavyrta, and a hike to Mega Spilaio, a cliff-hanging monastery, could I properly reflect upon the book, and this, my first taste of Athens.

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