Last year when I turned fifty, a girlfriend told me she wanted to take me away to celebrate.
As luck would have it, it took over a year to pull off the logistics (and to dovetail our trip with the annual summer Shakespeare Festival), but Ashland proved to be worth the wait.
I’d not yet been to Ashland; it’s just a short drive from the California border but five hours from Portland. I’d driven past it before on my ride from S.F. to my new home a dozen years ago, so I’d yet to make its acquaintance.
The drive is a little long but it’s an easy one — just get your car on I-5 and head south.
I’d heard raves about the town’s picturesque qualities, but even forewarned, I was surprised by how charming it is.
There are a lot of beautiful homes and cottages throughout the town, and many are lovingly cared for, and the Victorian touches remind me a lot of the Bay Area — or Bend in Eastern Oregon.
I was also struck by how European some of the touches were throughout.
Could this little side street not be found somewhere in France?
Or this one?
And don’t these cottages look straight out of the Cotswolds in England?
Mary Ann and I were there for three days and two nights, and every day we’d go on long walks, stopping for a snack along the way.
Like the time we had these amazing morning buns and lattes from Mix Bakery.
And on another day this baguette and a salted chocolate chip cookie from the same extraordinary bakery.
By the way, take a look at the Swedish purses/market totes we bought ourselves, my pal the red, I the 50’s minty blue/green.
We bought them for ourselves from one of the most amazing retail stores — Prize.
My friends, this store was outrageously, scandalously bedecked with lovely items from around the world (with a heavy emphasis on French).
There are confections and kitchen items here — as well as stationary and cards and housewares and clothes and treasures of all kinds.
Just look at these water bottles in gelato colors.
The owner has an amazing eye for procuring items and then displaying in eye-catching tableaus.
Ninety percent of the items are new with the occasional vintage item added in for further interest.
I was enchanted with these French game pieces– and I bought some of these as well as some vintage French flashcards.
Ashland has so many beautiful shops.
It was so fun to window-shop without being hurried by impatient spouses or kids — just with a girlfriend who loves the same kind of beautiful things.
Here too are a lot of great places to eat — like Amuse.
We went there the first night and dug right in.
Halibut with cucumber and tomato.
We wished the accompanying vegetables had been seasoned more, but the fish was cooked flawlessly and the plating was gorgeous.
We also had the signature corn and truffle soup and it was a mind-blower.
Especially when paired alongside some of their laudable fries
and bread and salted butter (these also from Mix Bakery).
Those who have been lucky enough to get away with a gal pal will recognize this truth; the success of your trip can be directly linked to how similar your attitudes are toward shopping and eating.
Luckily, Mary Ann is a terrific cook and baker and eater — and she has an unerring ability to sniff out goodness and procure treasures from out and about.
She found this salad from a little pizzeria on a creek right near our hotel and it was a winner — greens with candied walnuts, sliced pear and blue cheese with a lip-smacking balsamic vinaigrette.
The salad was added to all our picnic fixings for a spectacular pre-Hamlet show, enjoyed in a creekside patio that we had all to ourselves.
Spanish charcuterie, French cheeses, tapenade, rosemary crackers, baguette, luscious summer fruit — and a quiet spot.
It was heavenly — and perhaps our best meal of our entire trip.
And then we were off to the show.
We’d re-familiarized ourselves with the plot, characters and sub-texts of the play (college Shakespeare was too far in our pasts to remember the details) so we were good and ready.
Happily for us, this was the one show that night that was performed in the outdoor stage — a replica of one in London.
Turns out filming wasn’t allowed in here but I was able to get off one decent shot pre-performance before I was told of this fact.
For three plus hours we were held in rapturous wonder as the story unfolded; balmy breezes licked our cheeks and shoulders as Hamlet struggled to avenge the murder of his father and bedlam ensued.
I grew up going to Broadway fairly often as kid in Connecticut, but this performance (and setting) was clearly the most memorable of my life.
Sadly, yesterday morning we had to pack up to head for home, but a few last adventures awaited us first.
First there was a vigorous walk through Lithia Park before a long car ride home.
It’s such a quiet, contemplative place — and just steps from the Oregon Shakespeare Center.
Everywhere we walked there were largely-empty trails but so much to catch the eye.
Dappled leaves and babbling brooks.
And I got closer to these three deer then I’ve ever been before.
And then it was time to bid adieu to this lovely town and head home.
But first we had one last trick up our culinary sleeves.
About twenty miles from Ashland on the way home is this.
For those sadly not familiar, this tiny creamery makes outstanding cheeses, specializing in blue cheeses (one of which was awarded with “Best Blue” in a world-wide competition.
Their place here is surprisingly small but you’re able to observe some of the cheese making happening in real time.
And then taste some of their offerings side-by-side.
My favorite one was this one — Smokey Blue.
Both Mary Ann and I bought treats to take home
and then we sat outside in a spot that looked right out of Aix-en-Provence for one of their signature grilled cheese sandwiches.
Minutes later, this arrived.
A grilled cheese with blue cheese, cheddar and honey.
(It had the unctuous and goo of a great sandwich but we’d wished for a different kind of bread and more pronounced honey addition).
Goodbye Central Point and Rogue River Creamery — I’ll think of you when I enjoy your treats back at home.
And to you, Mary Ann, thanks so much for your generosity, your friendship and all the wonderful treats seemingly every moment of our time together.
I loved everything we did, saw, and ate — and I couldn’t ask for a better companion for a girl’s getaway.
I officially bestow upon you a new nickname — and the greatest of compliments.