Portland: Week One
Before I start, there are three points I feel I should make.
- Portland is the nicest, friendliest city I’ve ever been to.
- In a gridded city like Portland/San Francisco/New York, it’s impossible to get lost; the avenues run from 1st upwards and, in Northwest Portland at least, the streets run in alphabetical order (Burnside…Flanders…Lovejoy…Quimby… Are you starting to see where Matt Groening got his inspiration for Simpsons characters yet?)
- This is going to be quite a long post. I thought about splitting it into two parts, but overruled the idea. You’ve been warned!
After a long weekend with the ratio of being awake to sleeping soundly standing at 10:1, it was time to start exploring Portland. I’m a little ashamed to say that I was a bit nervous being in a new city and I hadn’t quite understood the street numbering/lettering system yet, so my excursion twenty feet down the road to the Co-op to buy some milk was a nerve-wracking but rewarding one.
After consulting Google and contemplating just how far to venture, I settled for Forest Park, a 5,100 acre expanse of pure beauty, a haven of greenery and nature that cuts off all sound from the city that lies no more than a mile away.
Joaquin, who is hosting me, lives in the Northwest quadrant of Portland, and the Forest Park trail starts at the end of the road he lives on, so, with a mental picture of the map of Portland in my head, I left the house, turned right and walked for a mile before I realised I should have turned left.
Secretly annoyed with myself for being such a dim clot, I was determined to make a go of it on Tuesday. I visited Trip Advisor and head out the door into the drizzle of not-quite-summery PDX. First stop: Lan Su Chinese Garden. Speed turned on heel when I saw the admission price: moderate to quick.
I walked from 3rd & Everett to 9th & Burnside, where I excitedly sifted through numerous classical LPs in the famed Jackpot Records. Although I came across a rather lovely copy of Massenet’s “Le Cid” performed by none other than The CBSO (whose Chief Conductor has just been appointed Music Director of The BSO – congratulations Andris!), I understand that 12′ vinyls aren’t the easiest of objects to backpack with…
My next stop was one block up, at the magical Powell’s City of Books. Occupying a whole city block (nearly 68,000 square feet) and buying, on average, 3,000 used books every day, it essentially gives the finger to every eReader company on the market. Upon entering, I was actually provided with a map of the store, as too many people had complained of getting lost. In an ideal world, I’d set up camp on the second floor and make my way through the shelves, but I fear the staff would have something to say about that.
This was a particularly busy day, as I had decided to advance into the Southwest quadrant of Portland; this area is more built up and business-like than Northwest, hosting taller buildings, coffee shops every ten metres and, like in any city, a diverse range of people either high on life or something more illegal.
Within the first five minutes I’d witnessed a suited woman skateboarding down the middle of the road, a man stood on the corner dressed as a Smurf, another man rocking out in the middle of the street on a child’s plastic guitar toy and a chap running into the middle of the highway, picking up some moss, continuing to the other side (oblivious of horns blaring) and proceeding to plant the moss into the grass, all the while shouting, “I’ll save you!”
Keeping my gaze glued firmly ahead of me, I visited the Farmer’s Market, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (unfortunately closed at the time of day I went, but I hope to get a look inside before I leave Portland) and the Pioneer Courthouse.
I decided on my way back to visit Washington Park, home of Oregon Zoo, the International Rose Test Garden and the Japanese Gardens. On the way, I was shown fully the kindness of Oregonians. I had stopped on the sidewalk to take a picture of a tram that was rapidly approaching, when I realised there was a car that would be between me and it at the crucial moment. I lowered my camera, knowing that I could get the shot at a hundred other points in time. The car, however, actually slowed down and the driver indicated to me to take my photo.
Gobsmacked, I lifted my camera and took the picture, marvelling at the graciousness this complete stranger had shown me. Of course, when I got home, I discovered the picture was blurred, but that’s neither here nor there.
I never expected to have fun in a garden full of roses; the same roses my father insists on showing me in his garden every time we Skype, but the IRTG was exceptionally beautiful. Flowers in colours I didn’t know existed, a pleasing Shakespeare Garden with his memorable quote etched in stone under an arch, and the cutest little Asian girl you ever did see picking at petals before attempting to put them back.
With another rapid heel turn after seeing the price of Oregon Zoo, I made my way down Stern’s trail and back to the house to ready myself for my first outing with the North Portland Run Club. Meeting at Bar Bar on Mississippi Avenue in North Portland every week, they offer a 5k or 10k run, perfect for me, running for the first time after ripping every tendon in my ankle to shreds whilst tumbling in gymnastics two months previously.
24 minutes later, I drank three successive glasses of water. By 10pm, I was home. By five past, I had passed out. A brilliant day.
Still aching and limping a little from the night before, how better to spend the afternoon than with a four mile hike through a different trail in Forest Park?
The scenery was, as always, beautiful, with quirky touches all through the forest, including this lovely quote carved into a tree trunk:
“Running has given me the courage to start, the determination to keep trying, and the childlike spirit to have fun along the way. Run often and run long, but never outrun your joy of running.”
The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in the sun before heading out to Last Thursday, a street party in North Portland that takes place on the last Thursday of every month. Bands sing and play, bars heave and everyone smiles. All of life can be found at Last Thursday, from folk groups to dancers to food vendors to people jousting on bicycles to completely naked women who have had their bodies painted in many themes and styles.
Before the night was over, I made my first real cultural mistake: ordering a two-scoop cone ice cream. Forgetting I was in the US of A, I handed over my money and in return was handed a snack almost the size of my head. An hour later I finished it. My stomach didn’t thank me for it.
Still slightly achy from running and walking, but not wanting to sit at home all day, I called a friend and we set off into Forest Park once more, taking yet another trail; one that would lead us to Pittock Mansion, a sandstone, French Renaissance-style château situated in the West Hills, offering incredible panoramic views of Downtown Portland.
Built just over 100 years ago, it was home to Henry Pittock, the publisher of The Oregonian, Portland’s major daily newspaper.
Six miles later and we were back home, showered and ready to head to Brew Fest, a festival marking the importance of Portland’s many breweries. Being a non-drinker, I socialised with new people, watched the simply awesome folk band play on the stage and took photos as the sun set over the beer tents.
After a Mexican dinner at Matadors, it was once again time to rest up for the next day’s activities…
After an hour’s drive, we arrived in Silverton, a city in Marion County, south of Portland. Silver Falls was to be our hiking destination; a five mile trek encountering some of the most beautiful naturally occurring waterfalls in the States. Also, a chance for me to cross off an item on my bucket list: “Stand behind a waterfall.”
We hiked as a group for just over a mile, before the majority decided to turn back and head for their cars. The weather had improved dramatically over the course of the week, and Saturday was the first day it had peaked at over 30°C. Joaquin, Gunnar, Gandhi and I decided to carry on, and five miles later, huffing and puffing, we were back at the car. A good workout in those conditions!
Jen had put on an incredible barbecue, and I stuffed my face with chicken/seafood skewers, homemade salsa dip, bratwursts and ice cream for the next hour. Again, my stomach definitely didn’t thank me.
Today was due to be hot. The hottest yet, in fact. As the temperature hit 34°C, Joaquin and I were running errands; picking up paint for his other house and supplies for the 4th July camping trip we’re due to be taking.
The afternoon and evening was spent taping and painting the house, with good company, good music, good pizza and a happy heart.
I love Portland, and I’m one very happy camper.