From the Blog

Tank Full Of Gas, Chapter 16: Astoria Midsummer Scandinavian Fest

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Two road trip weekends in a row. The cat has been very close to smothering us to death in our sleep from want of attention. Because if you are a cat, and your humans callously abandon you two weekends in a row, what choice do you have but to kill them while they sleep? Maybe hook your claws into their sweatpants as they defenselessly brush their teeth? Maybe bite their ankles and make them bleed as they pass by? Indeed. The arsenal of options is near limitless when you are a kitty scorned.

This past weekend, Dave planned in advance to go to the Astoria Midsummer Scandinavian Fest. He’s a festy guy. He’d be hard pressed to miss a fest. Even one 100 miles away. Thankfully, we both really like Astoria, and we wanted to get an opportunity to spend more time there.


So, about 100 miles on route 30 to go from Portland to Astoria. It seems shocking to me. Eugene is about 110 miles away from Portland, but Eugene is so much further. It’s because there’s a disturbance/wormhole in the space/time continuum on I-5, and as soon as you start driving south, you age 17 years before you even get to Salem.

Unrelated: I used to think it was quirky that Californians would say the 5, the 405, the 101. I say quirky, not charming. It wasn’t charming. I grew up saying route 2, route 12, route 119. “Root” 2. And we called them “highways” not “freeways.” It was cultural difference to put a “the” in front of a freeway number. I didn’t like it. However, I believe it took less than a month of living in California to slip into saying the 101. Now I have to make a conscientious effort to NOT say it. Gah. I wish I weren’t so tender and impressionable. And dainty.

Astoria. We like it. I have vacation house fantasies every time we go there. I like that it has the feel of a “working” town, instead of being sheerly recreational, like Cannon Beach or Seaside. Astoria has a bit of gruffness, a boomtown that has seen better days. There’s heritage in those old houses overlooking the river. While charming and quaint, Astoria has no presumption of impressing anyone.

This used to be a fishing and timber town. There are lots of new, brightly colored businesses, but there are many more empty storefronts. As an entrepreneurial dreamer, all the vacant space is both intriguing (cheap rent!) and disquieting (there’s a reason why it’s cheap!) It feels like change is happening, but it’s happening slowly.

Our hotel was an example of potential realized. The Commodore Hotel has been recently renovated after having been shut down since 1965.


The renovation is a slick combination of vintage bones and new urban chic.


Original wood. Crystal doorknobs. Transom windows. Shared bathroom and showers down the hall.


But then, new fixtures, wall graphics, and “hip” carpet. If there is such a thing. It would be a good band name. “The Hip Carpets.”


And the views were really nice. The heavy window had no screen. I raised it as high as it would go, leaned out, and drank in the view.


What year is this? 1960 something? I fell asleep looking at the view of all the twinkling houses on the hill. It was serene.


So, in summary: we like The Commodore Hotel. They did a great job renovating it. As of this writing, they’ve been open for six weeks. The rates are reasonable. They have suites if you aren’t into the “bathroom down the hall” thing. I wish them heaping gobs of success.

After we checked in, we walked to Fort George Brewery, which has become a favorite with just two visits. They have homemade sausage. And really, I don’t know of a quicker way to win me over than with homemade sausage. I had a big salad, which was pretty good. But what made it better? A big sausage on it. A French garlic sausage with basil and white wine. It was good.

We walked around downtown after dinner, thinking we might get some decaf and dessert. Nope. Despite it being before 9pm, nearly everything was closed. The sidewalks were rolled up. This is a small town.

We just walked around and marveled at all the vacant storefronts. It really is striking. It seems as though an easy fifty percent of the spaces were for sale or lease. Some of them were absolutely prime space, but vacant. And some places looked as though they had been empty for a long time.

All the dark windows were baffling, if not a bit eerie. The downtown area is so achingly ripe for a resurgence. In some cases, like our hotel, someone had a grand vision, seized the potential and created a sparkling gem. But as mentioned, this isn’t Seaside or Cannon Beach. For now, it seems the throngs overlook Astoria. I have a feeling this is beginning to change.

We were unsuccessful in finding an early-evening dessert, so we headed back to the hotel while it was still light out. We read local papers and did our internets on the fast, free wifi (over 15mbps. I’m not obsessed.) Then I watched the reflection of the sun fade in the windows of the old houses until I fell asleep.

The next morning, we planned our itinerary for the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival. It started with an Optog, the walking parade through downtown Astoria.


Can you guess which country each of these flags represent? I bet you can guess four. But not the last one. Your 6th grade geography teacher is very disappointed with you.


There they go. It was um, very “chill.” About as many people watching as were in the parade.

After that, we went into a store that sold all kinds of Scandinavian stuff. Dave has some Norwegian heritage. I guess this is why he likes sardines. And somehow I convinced him it was a good idea to put this viking hat on his head.


We popped into a bookstore and bought a few books on the history of Astoria. I picked up a book on Oregon weather, and it turns out the author is a climate denier. Gah. I didn’t know that thunder was caused by angry gods!

From there, we got in the car and headed over the hill to the Clatsop County Fairgrounds.


Did you guess the flags correctly? Did you know that Denmark is ruled by Lego Men? And the puffins are HUGE in Iceland?


This is Kerry Christensen, Master Yodeler. We specifically pried ourselves away from the Beer Garden to catch this guy. And we were not disappointed. I’d never seen anything like it. Yodeling! I didn’t catch his better songs on my camera, and I was irritated with myself, because this guy was amazing.

Kerry Christensen, Master Yodeler, The Norwegian Cow Song from Mile73 on Vimeo.

Yodeling. It was awesome. Here’s another song. This, by itself, made the 100 mile drive worth it.

We also had a lovely chat with this couple, Vern and Jeannie Lindquist.


I confessed on Dave’s behalf that he secretly wishes he could play the accordion. They were overwhelming encouraging. Vern is 67 and only started playing 12 years ago. There’s no such thing as being too old to learn something new. I may get Dave lessons for his birthday. Then he could celebrate his Norwegian and German heritage everyday.

More tomorrow, including our trip the the Columbia River Maritime Museum, the Astoria Sunday Market, the drive to the South Jetty, then Cape Disappointment, and Long Beach, Washington, and then how we gorged ourselves on fish and chips. Fun stuff!


  1. RE: the “the” before freeways: I grew up in California, and any 3-digit freeway or highway had a “the” in front of it *except* 101. I don’t know why. Everything else was standard: I-5, I-10, I-80, the 405, the 205, etc. Weird, huh. 101 was just 101 because it turned into PCH at some point, though it really is PCH all the way from SoCal to WA.
    I love Astoria. They really need to reinstate daily train service from PDX to there – wouldn’t that be awesome? Sponsored by Rogue and Ft. George or something, and have a beer car… I can dream, can’t I?

  2. Iceland and Norway should _really_ have consulted each other before approving their designs.

    “How is your flag different from theirs?” “It isn’t, we just swap the blue & red fabric at the textile mill.”


  3. CilleyGirl says

    Oh my god. Vern was my high school teacher. He taught commercial arts and graphic production, was a great mentor to me and he is such a wonderful man. He played the organ at my best friend’s wedding (he also plays the bells, I’ve seen him play them at church at Christmastime several times, he’s amazing). I went to school with his daughters. Wow. I’m a full quarter Finn and my great-grandmother’s family emigrated to Astoria, but I couldn’t make it to the festival this year because of work. Seeing Vern and his wife, I’m really wishing I could have made it. What a small world!

  4. CilleyGirl says

    I forgot to add, this was up in Issaquah outside of Seattle — we just had our 20th high school reunion last year. I’ve lived in the Portland area for almost 13 years now. I have to send your post to my friend, she’ll be as stunned as I was.

  5. ah-HEM!
    I grew up in Northern California and lived in Southern CA for a while. I need to point out that the “the” prefix is dominant in Southern California, but rare in Northern California. As for why some freeways get the prefix and some don’t… my theory has always been : maybe it gets the “the” if it doesn’t leave the state?

    Also: Northern Californians don’t call it “PCH”, and may not know that the term refers to highway 1. It’s certainly not “PCH” anywhere near the Bay Area.

    Another way to tell the NoCal and SoCal Californians apart, I guess.

    Also, I can independently confirm that Denmark is populated solely by Lego men.

  6. Meredith says

    Then I love Denmark!

  7. No stops at the Goonies house? Or the Kindergarden Cop school? The Free Willy house?
    What kind of tourists are you?

  8. On a [sort of] related note, I tried making lefse a couple of years ago and failed miserably. Nothing at all like my grandma’s.

  9. the commodore must admit that he googled himself and found your wonderful blog entry and photos of your experience at his new-old hotel… he graciously thanks you for sharing your experience on your blog and he sincerely hopes to see you again soon!

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