Portland Oregon - Keepin' it weird

I'm on it!


Portland, Oregon is hip to the hop to the hippity hop (to quote the Sugar Hill Gang). If you’re not in your sixties with long grey hair and wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt, or twenty two years old with tattoos on top of your piercings and a bearded face that has been exhausted by life, then you’re going to stand out in liberal Portlandia.

Coming from San Francisco automatically gives you hipster credentials so we blended in with our free living northern brethren. In fact, with about 600k residents and being easy enough to walk around, Portland reminded me of a smaller SF. Plus, they say if you don’t like the Portland weather wait ten minutes (that sounds familiar), and it is definitely just as quirky a city; every block contains a piece of public art! If you don’t feel like walking, Portland is very proud of its public transport so jump on a streetcar (it will even bring you back and forth to the airport).

To get a feel for the lay of the city we wandered to Pioneer Sq. It has a tourist office, it’s where tour buses leave from and it’s where you’ll pick up public transport. Walk a few blocks and there are loads of places to hire bikes.

If you’re a boy scout or pride yourself on being a human compass, you’ll love this city cos it’s all about North, South, East and West  The Willamette river divides the city East and West, and Burnside St splits the city North and South, then into four quadrants (do I need to say ‘four’?!) NW, SW, NE and SE.

The West of the city is where most of the hustle and bustle is (I use ‘hustle and bustle’ lightly, as it is my experience with all city’s on the west coast so far, there is hardly anyone about!). If you do venture East, check out Zells CafĂ© for breakfast, you get free mini scones, yay.

Great name for a bookstore

The NW of the city is where most of the shopping is (malls plus vintage shops). The streets in this part of town are alphabetized so you can’t go too far wrong. It’s also a popular area for food. I’ll tell you something I didn’t know, the creator of the Simpson TV show is from Portland. So, a lot of the characters from the show are named after Portland Streets e.g. Flanders St!

I love history and it’s is the first thing I like to discover about a new city. So for our first night we took a step back in time and headed to the oldest restaurant in Portland named Hubers. If you find yourself there, ask to sit in the “historic section” which has kept the original period features, and if your constitution can take it order a flaming Spanish coffee.

Portland isn’t all about the hipsters, it is also known as ‘City of the Roses’. In fact our visit co-incided with the Rose Festival which seemed to involve a parade and a pop up fair ground. I was hoping it would be more like the Irish Rose of Tralee beauty pageant and I could get out my green taffeta ball gown and enter myself as the “San Francisco Rose”. I could say things like “I believe in equal rights for leprechauns, and if we keep fighting we can achieve world peace. Now, for my party piece I will perform Danny Boy backwards on the tin whistle.”

Speaking of leprechauns, the city boasts the smallest park in the world which was built specifically for leprechauns (I hope they gave them social housing) and was inaugurated as an official city park on St Patrick day. Equal rights, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

If you want food, cocktails and a great view, take me out to dinner (ba-dum-tish!). Head to the 30th floor of the Bankcorp building to the Portland City Grill restaurant for a superb panaromic of the city. It’s where we caught the Rose Festival fireworks display. 

If you like getting on your bike, this is the city for you. It prides itself on being ‘the cycling city of America’. According to our friendly bike hire man there is a counter on the Hawthorne bridge which counts the number of bikes crossing it, the daily average is 5k. Of course I pictured 5,000 bikes crossing the bridge at once. Woah! While on the subject of the Hawthorne bridge, some of you may remember it from the movie The Fugitive. The river is in fact crossed by many bridges including the only double decker lift bridge in the world (that means absolutely nothing to me, but might excite one of you).

Park Life

With no plan in mind we found ourselves cycling up to the beautiful Washington Park. It gets pretty steep but the exquisite houses you get to gawk at on the way there make the pain worth it. Plus when you finally reach the park it is very pretty with a rose garden (great place for a picnic), Japanese garden, a zoo, and a children’s museum.

We free wheeled back into the city and a straight line led us to Waterfront Park. Even if a bike is not for you, just walking along this riverside escape is a must do. Lots of events kick off in the river including fireworks and dragon races. Bellies roared, less peddling more eating, with the help of yelp and google maps we chose a quaint looking spot, the Veritable Quandary. It was pleasant enough but probably the coolest thing about it was the name.

With tired legs and plump tummies it was time to investigate the most famous aspect of this exciting town, their beer. There are LOADS of micro brewerys in the city (31 in total, more than any other city in the world). Forget ‘City of Roses’ it should be called ‘City of Brews’ which could then be nicknamed ‘City of Booze’, Damn, I should work for their tourism dept.

The breweries appear to be dotted all over the place but the Pearl District is a good place to start. It used to be a warehouse district but it’s now very trendy with cool restaurants, galleries and condos. I’d recommend Deschutes Brewery (nightmare for a dyslexic German “vere ist de weiss beer, meine leibchen”). It’s probably a tourist spot as we noticed the people around us were a mixture of English and Australian (both sound the same to me, I’m kidding) but the service is quick and its all about the beer and comfort food.

If by the end of the night the beer has left you looking for a wee snack you will not starve, there are over 700 food carts in Portland! It’s a very foodie city with a big emphasis on fresh and organic products (which is obviously first and foremost on your mind in a post beer food fiesta “did that chicken in my kebab die smiling? I can’t ingest bad karma, it plays havoc with my shakras.”)

Whiskers or not, I wouldn't mess with her

Portlandia is not just a name of a popular TV show that parodys Portland’s penchant for alternative lifestyles, it’s also the name of a statue. A huge statue, the 2nd largest copper model after the Statue of Liberty. It leans precariously out of a building downtown. When the guide was talking about it, before I saw it, he said it was based on the city seal. I took this to mean the city had a whiskered furry sea lion pet that they built an image in the likeness of. Much to my surprise and embarrassment, he meant the city logo, which is some sort of fearless female sea god. I guess that might be more appropriate if you’re going to create a 35 foot tall goliath. I still think a cuddly mammal would have been cute too.

I LOVE a good bookstore. As soon as I learned to read I would get highly excited about going to the library. Shame I wasn’t able to maintain that excitement by the time I got to college. Powell’s bookstore is legendary in Portland. It takes up a city block and has everything you can possibly think of. Very easy to spend hours there just browsing.

....well, if you insist
No I shouldn't...

A few friends had suggested we check out Voodoo Doughnuts. It’s a Portland institution that stays open very late making the craziest types of doughnuts known to man. If the word on the street is to be believed, it started in the 1970s with the aim to sober up late night revelers by selling doughnuts with nyquil filling, peptobismol icing and aspirin sprinkles. The Dept of Health stepped in and said you can’t sell food mixed with drugs (party poopers). So Voodoo kept with the notion of crazy toppings but all safe and government approved. They are yummy if not terribly bad for you.

Only two American cities have aerial trams and Portland is one of them (New York being the other). It’s a short journey, but if you want a view out over the city or you’re a kid and what to feel like you’re in Willy Wonkas glass elevator, give it a go. The only strange thing is that it has one stop which is a hospital in the mountain side. There’s no touristy shop or restaurant or even an information booth, there is just a corridor that points to X-ray or Pathology. This perplexed me, if you need to go to hospital surely getting into a rocky aerial tram is probably an ill advised form of transit. The mind boggles.
A Leprechaun's Tahiti?

A park the size of your foot dedicated to imaginary people, I’m fine with. A space age flying pseudo ambulance, that’s where I draw the line.

I would highly recommend doing the Underground Shanghai Tour which takes you around the well preserved ‘Old Town’. The lady who gave this walking tour was hilarious and the tales of the city were fascinating. To be “shanghai’d” back in the goldrush days meant your drink would be spiked and you would be sold as free labour to merchant ships. You would literally wake up on board the ship which was often en route to Shanghai.

At one stage, the guide told us about Portland’s relaxed nudity laws (West Coasters are obsessed with this! What’s so wrong with keeping your clothes on and carrying on with your lives). She pointed out that there are more strip clubs per capita in Portland than in Vegas. We hadn’t noticed until she said it and then you realize they are everywhere (or should I say “I” hadn’t noticed, Dom seemed very aware).

On our last day in Portland, we spent our morning browsing the famous downtown market stalls, then two unusual things happened. Firstly, we found a Starbucks that served beer and wine, what?! Secondly, I saw a couple arguing in a car about whether to ask directions or not and when the guy turned around it was Chevy Chase, WHAT?!. I was a huge fan of his movies growing up, I still quote lines from Fletch. His wife was elbowing him to ask directions and I was just staring at him slack-jawed, then he drove off. I like to think we’ll become G+ friends very soon.

Back in California it was time for something closer to home… Yosemite.

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